Carlsbad desalination plant ready to produce drinking water

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CARLSBAD, Calif. -- A $1 billion desalination plant in Carlsbad that could provide a significant boost to the region's supply of drinking water should begin commercial production by the end of the week, officials said Monday.

When the reverse osmosis plant goes into full operation, it's expected to produce 50 million gallons of drinking water a day, roughly one-tenth of the region's supply and about one-third of the fresh water generated locally.

The plant was constructed over the past three years at the inlet to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. It began production testing in early November. The reverse osmosis process has passed all quality controls and is ready to add to the local water supply, officials said.

The plant was dedicated Monday to the memory the late longtime mayor of Carlsbad, Claude "Bud'' Lewis. Lewis was mayor of the North County coastal city for 24 years, part of the four decades he spent on the Carlsbad City Council. During that time, Lewis, who died last year, was instrumental in making Carlsbad the host city for the plant.

"The Claude `Bud' Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant opens a new chapter in water supply reliability for the San Diego region and the state by tapping the potential of the Pacific Ocean and reducing dependence on strained resources such as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta,'' said Mark Weston, chairman of the San Diego County Water Authority.

"It is bolstering the San Diego region's self-reliance, and in turn, its future,'' he said.

Weston said the facility is a milestone in the agency's efforts to diversify the region's supply of fresh water, most of which is imported from the State Water Project and Colorado River. When it reaches peak production, it will generate about 50 million gallons of fresh water a day, producing one gallon of fresh water from every two gallons of sea water processed. That's enough water to supply about 400,000 people, officials said.

The processed sea water will be more expensive than other sources of fresh water, officials said. It is expected to add about $5 a month to the average customer's water bill.

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