It should come as no surprise that Peter MacLaggan, head of Poseidon, the planned desalinization plant in Carlsbad, is an ardent surfer. He's also a San Diego native with an undergraduate degree in civil engineering and law degree from the University of San Diego.
I was surprised to find out, however, that the sand used in the primary filtration system of the proposed desal plant actually comes from the California desert. Who would have guessed? One of the primary ingredients in protecting Carlsbad from a drought is actually the most abundant material in the desert.

Our city's water history

Over the years, Carlsbad and San Diego County, have suffered from many droughts. Some have been severe. The droughts have contributed to explosive conditions for wildfires. As you may recall, portions of Carlsbad and La Costa were devastated by fire just a few short years ago.

Read these words from a San Diego chapter Red Cross media advisory, in July of 2003, just ninety days prior to the great Cedar Fire that destroyed more than 2200 homes locally:

"Fire risk is building after five years of drought in San Diego County. The Red Cross plans to distribute 10,000 door hangers (on wildfire prevention and preparedness) in select communities by Labor Day."

During severe droughts in our recent past, business and community leaders have implored water officials at other local governments to create a sustainable, safe and reliable source of water. Many area industries are at risk should there be an unreliable source of water. A short list includes the more than eighty biotech companies here in Carlsbad. But think of some less obvious ones like tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, your gardener and dry cleaner.

Fortunately, in 2000, Mayor Bud Lewis saw the potential source of desalinated water as a safe, reliable and abundant commodity. It is hard to imagine the Pacific Ocean ever being in a state of drought.

Poseidon looked at every coastal city in San Diego County and chose Carlsbad as a potential plant site because of some good luck and fortuitous circumstance.

Location, location, location

The Encina Power Plant has the requisite intake and discharge piping in place for seawater. Second, the finished product, clean water, would be immediately adjacent to a large business and residential customer base. Third, there are forward thinking city council members and business leaders who embraced the concept early on.

According to MacLaggan, there are more than 21,000 active desalination plants in the world today producing more than three billion gallons of water daily. Interestingly, San Diego is the world leader in reverse osmosis desal technology, having pioneered the science in the 1960's at a General Atomics owned company in La Jolla.

Poseidon has invested about $2.5 million in Carlsbad at a demonstration plant that is operating safely and efficiently today. It is located next to the Encina Power Plant. Important environmental studies are ongoing there now on discharge effects back into the ocean, corrosive impact of the desal water on city and residential piping and the potential impact, if any, on sea life.

At this point, it appears the discharge effects are acceptable. The sea life is thriving and the corrosive quality of desal is less than the water properties currently in your home or business pipes. Final studies and permits are pending before local and state regulators.

What the future will bring

The economic impact of the Poseidon Resources desal plant in Carlsbad and San Diego County will be significant. More than 2,000 direct and indirect high paying construction jobs are planned at the $230 million plant. About 400 direct and indirect jobs would be created for operation and maintenance of the plant. Poseidon will spend another $40 million to construct the pipeline distribution system that will network through Carlsbad and our North County neighbors of Oceanside, Vista and San Marcos.

Interestingly, the filter membranes used in the reverse osmosis process will likely come from North County manufacturers also. The world leaders in this kind of filtering technology and supply are located here according to MacLaggan. The local filter and membrane industry employs more than 2500 residents of our area. These companies produce more than eight million square feet of filter membranes per year.

If we look beyond our borders to the great southwest basin of the United States, the Colorado River and the California Aqueduct, we have significant and growing water supply issues. Anyone of us who have been to Lake Mead near Las Vegas or Lake Powell in Arizona in the last few years understand the gravity of the situation. Many water policy makers indicate we have greatly oversubscribed our allotment from these various sources feeding Southern California. In short, we are at the end of the pipeline and the flow is in danger of trickling to a drip.

Residents, the business community and our local economy are fundamentally dependent on a guaranteed supply of water. The Carlsbad city council and mayor have embraced proven technology that could supply 50 million gallons per day of fresh water for the next 30 years, which is the expected life of Poseidon's desal plant. That's no drop in the bucket. It's a clear solution to our water needs.