Why Surfrider Is Against the Carlsbad Desalination Plant

by on December 11, 2015 · 5 comments

in California, Culture, Energy, Environment, History, Politics, San Diego

Desalination plant carlsbadgoodEditor: The following is a press statement from the San Diego Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation on the opening of the Carlsbad desalination plant.

Carlsbad Desalination Plant Opening: The Wrong Solution at the Wrong Time

San Clemente, CA, December 10, 2015 – Since 2009, the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches, along with its San Diego Chapter, objected to the rationale for, and ultimately the process to establish the Carlsbad desalination plant, in California, by the developer, Poseidon Resources, Inc.

Days from this Carlsbad facility going online, Surfrider stresses that desalination is not the solution for drought-stricken California or other states in similar conditions.  Desalination plants not only pose significant risks to our marine habitats, but will have significant economic impacts.

Poseidon Resources Inc. built this $1 billion plant – the largest ever attempted in the U.S. – with taxpayer-backed bond financing at Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad. The plant will produce approximately 50 million gallons of drinking water per day.  However, the cost of the water produced by the plant will be dramatically higher than the County Water Authority currently pays for freshwater imported from Northern California and the Colorado River. All this will result in local water districts experiencing increased rates, which gets passed along to their customers

“If you look to the examples of where desalination has worked successfully around the world, you will see that those nations worked diligently to reduce demand before turning to desalination.

We have done the opposite here in San Diego, and now that we are seeing real progress with conservation due to the drought mandates, and the Carlsbad plant is coming online, we can see what a predicament this 30-year take-or-pay contract puts us in. 

The order in which water supply options are implemented matters tremendously,”

— said Julia Chunn-Heer, Policy Manager for the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego County Chapter.

Even if the Carlsbad plant performs flawlessly, there are significant problems with this approach. The Pacific is not a limitless resource; furthermore the staggering energy requirements and GHG emissions of this water supply option make it the worst option in light of climate change. Not to mention that rate increases have consequences, and poor planning could preclude environmentally and fiscally preferable options from moving forward.

Environmentalist agree that San Diego and Southern California need to develop local supplies of water, but the order in which that is pursued and the amount of water that is produced requires thoughtful planning. Otherwise, new problems are created to solve the old,  and the environment and our pocket books will feel the consequences. Desalination may be part of the solution eventually, but it needs to be sized and located appropriately. It should be the last tool in the tool box, not the first.

Coupled with Poseidon aggressively pursuing the installation of desalination plants in Huntington Beach and Camp Pendleton in California and other companies using Carlsbad as a replicable model, now is the time for communities to learn the environmental and fiscal implications of a desalination plant and opt for water conservation and reclamation.

Representatives of the local and statewide environmental community will be hosting a press conference at the Tamarck Parking Lot, 3951-3999 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad, CA 92008 at 12 pm on December 14 to discuss these and other details concerning the opening and what that means for our state.


About Surfrider Foundation

The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over 250,000 supporters, activists and members worldwide. Learn more at surfrider.org.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous December 12, 2015 at 2:38 am

As stated in the article, “The plant will produce approximately 50 million gallons of drinking water per day.”


Dana Levy December 12, 2015 at 8:02 am

Oh come on!!! It is not at Agua Hedionda Lagoon but the artificial one made by SDG&E for the cooling water at the electric plant. And, what resources anywhere in the world are limitless resources?? This project is an attempt to keep the water available to Southern Californians, and San Diego in particular, going until other available options become available when the government finally gets up to speed and address the eventuality of perennial drought possibilities in our region. This argument by the Surfriders is way off base. All anticipated precautions have been exhaustedly argued and settled and it is time to move forward with these new technologies to solve the water shortages in our ever growing communities just like wind and solar power, etc. Lastly, we have all embraced the recycling of used water and conservation of existing sources but that only takes us so far and all alternative options must be explored and implemented to solve the ever growing shortfall availability problem.


Christo December 12, 2015 at 9:10 am

I am supporter of Surfrider, but they have some bad information they are dealing with.
Let’s look at their issues one by one:
1) “The Pacific is not a limitless resource”
At an estimated 714 millon square Kilometers, Pacific represents over 50% of the world’s water. Global freshwater supply is 2.5% of the world water. We currently use virtually no saltwater.

2) Desalination has “Staggering Energy Requirements”
Desalination uses 15,000 KWH per million gallons. Imported water uses 14,000. That’s 7% more. Technology is improving in both energy requirements (what it takes to desalination the water) and power generation (solar coupled with pump-storage).

3) “Rates will go up”
Yes- but they will cross within the next 5 years to the point where desalination is less expensive than imported water.

4) “We have not worked diligently to reduce water demand in San Diego”
Wrong. Per capita water use in the Water Authority’s service area has fallen from more than 200 gallons per person/day to about 150 gpcd (gallons per capita per day) over the past decade. In 2014 total regional use of potable water was less than it was in 1990, even with a population increase of approximately 30 percent over that period. Since 1991, the Water Authority’s water use efficiency programs and initiatives cumulatively have conserved more than 930,000 acre-feet of water. These savings have been achieved through measures ranging from incentives on water-efficient devices, to legislative efforts, to outreach campaigns and programs. The region is on track to meet the state’s mandate to reduce per capita water use 20 percent by 2020.

5) “San Diego and Southern California need to develop local supplies of water, but the order in which that is pursued and the amount of water that is produced requires thoughtful planning.”

That’s been going on for 30 years. Infrastructure and transfer agreements are not sexy, news drooling stories, so they don’t get covered. http://www.sdcwa.org/water-supplies

We NEED to reduce our reliance on imported water. Long-term importation of water from the Sierra and Rockies is not reliable. Desalination is one of many components to the answer.


Clarke December 16, 2015 at 10:40 pm



Daniela Guitart June 23, 2016 at 9:54 pm


Would we be able to reuse this photo on our website http://www.coastadapt.com.au, due to be released next month?

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