By Jessica Rosenthal
20 May 2015

California (FOX News Radio) – The obvious solution to California’s drought is water. A lot of it.

A NASA analysis late last year found the state needs 11 trillion gallons to get out of the drought. And if it’s not coming from the sky, water agencies, politicians and regulators have said desalination may be the answer.

In Carlsbad, California, 400 crew members get a beautiful ocean view during their work days as they use cranes, giant wrenches, and lifts at a noisy construction site building that will eventually turn ocean water into drinking water.

“When this project is up in line this fall it will be the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere,” Poseidon Water spokeswoman Jessica Jones said. It may end up being the largest but it took less than half-an-hour to see the whole thing.

The water comes in to giant concrete holding areas where silt and dirt are sifted out. The second phase is reverse osmosis. Row after row of pressurized vessels sit on top of one another, connected by thick, blue tubing. The clean water goes through the tubes and is funneled over to a new location where minerals are added. The final destination? A large pipe.

The Carlsbad Desalination Plant in San Diego, California. Photo: ABC 10 News

Right now, it sticks a few feet out of the ground, disappearing into the dirt, open and waiting for its connection. Eventually, it will deliver water to the San Diego County Water Authority’s aqueduct.

Jones says the plant and the pipeline on San Diego’s northern coast cost nearly $1 billion. Poseidon Water is a private company. They, along with private investors, are financing it through bonds. A facility being planned for Northern California’s Monterey County will cost just under $300 million.

The thing is, the state has done desal before. And it didn’t go so well.

Santa Barbara’s desalination plant was built in the early 1990’s, following a drought. But it was not used. It started raining and the cost of production meant it wasn’t worth it.

“This time around it’s a little different,” says Santa Barbara water resources manager Joshua Haggmark. They need to spend an additional $40 million dollars just to get the plant up and running but he’s confident there won’t be a repeat of past failures.

He says the facility “will use about 40% less energy” than it previously did. On top of that, he says the amount they pay for several sources right now is much closer to the cost of creating desalinated water.

Haggmark says they estimate it’ll cost $1,300 – $1,400 an acre foot to produce water. And while that’s a far cry from reservoir water, which goes for roughly $300 an acre foot, “right now, we pay about $1,200 an acre foot for recycled water … this year we’ve been buying water … and we’ve been spending about $1,500 an acre foot to buy water.” (The Metropolitan Water District estimates an acre foot provides the water needs of two average southern California families for a year.) [more]

Desalination: Could One Of California's Drought Solutions Backfire?

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