To those ag retailers just returning from San Diego and using a good volume of water in their hotel rooms during the Agricultural Retailer Association’s annual conference and expo, it is interesting that you are part of the problem for the city—too little fresh water compared to increasing demand.

To meet this demand, a California regional water agency last week approved a contract to buy the entire output of what would be the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant. Construction is now scheduled to begin next year after many years of discussion and battles among agencies and environmental groups.

It is not going to be a cheap project with costs around $985 million. Investor bonds reportedly will finance more than 80 percent of construction by a private enterprise. The desalination plant will have a capacity to produce about 50 million gallons of drinking water a day, which has been calculated as 8 percent of the region’s water needs in 2020.

San Diego and the region currently depends on water coming from Northern California and the Colorado River via aqueducts (about 80 percent of use), and the more that San Diego needs, the less is allocated to farming in general. It appears that any project that leaves more water for agriculture will be applauded by agriculture.

Some of the difficulty in getting desalination plants off the ground is price for the processed water, and the San Diego region will be paying more than pulling from the Colorado River. Cost could be $5 to $7 higher per household per month once the plant comes on line in 2016, according to the local water agency.  

Poseidon Resources LLC proposed this plant in 1998 and began negotiating with potential customers. The company overcame challenges from environmentalists concerned about the plant's huge electrical needs for purification but also even more intently by some groups about harm to fish and other wildlife from intake filters and brine that will be dumped back into the ocean.

An article written by Elliot Spagat for the Associated Press provides an extensive look at this project and the whole desalination industry potential for California. Click here to read the article.