expensive imported water.
Connecticut-based Poseidon Resources wants to build a $250-million
desalination facility behind the AES power plant and convert 50
million gallons of seawater into drinking water per day. Poseidon
officials said the unprecedented plant could bring some stability to
the region's tumultuous water supply by tapping into an infinite
source -- seawater.
Opponents of the project argue that the high energy costs of
desalinating water mean final, drinkable product would cost three to
four times what some families now pay. With cheaper initiatives
underway to increase imports from Northern California and convert
sewage into drinking water, many wonder who would be willing to pay
$400 to $550 a year for the precious commodity.
"The big key is 'How bad do you need the water?'" Wes Bannister of
the Orange County Water District said. "If you need the water bad
enough, you'll pay for it."
Desalination's biggest expenses are energy costs associated with
separating water molecules from salt molecules during a process
called reverse osmosis. Large amounts of energy are expended trying
to push the molecules through a small membrane filter to separate the
salt from the water and make the seawater drinkable.
Poseidon officials estimate that desalinated water will cost about
$850 per acre-foot -- a pool of water an acre in size and one foot
deep, or a year's worth of water for two families.
Conversely an acre-foot of water imported from Northern California
costs Huntington Beach residents about $490, city utilities director
Howard Johnson said, while groundwater is pumped at $285 per
acre-foot. Huntington Beach residents pump about 65% of their water
and import the rest, Johnson said.
Over time, the increasing scarcity of water coupled with a growing
California population might push the cost of import and groundwater
closer to that of desalinated water, but water officials say
Poseidon's cost-estimate might be overly optimistic and estimate that
desalinated water could cost closer to $900 to $1,100 per acre-foot.
At least five other water agencies in Southern California are