Desalination Pilot Plant Up and Running

Moss Landing – In the shadow of the two towering stacks at the Moss Landing Power Plant, sits a possible solution to Monterey County's water supply problem. It's desalination pilot plant built by California American Water. It takes just a few minutes to walk through the small, open-air plant. On a tour, Senior Project Manager Peter Shen points out two very large blue pipes that arch out of the ground. Both have a couple of smaller pipes coming out of their sides. "The big pipe is the cooling water for the power plant, and the green pipe is where we tap in to bring the water into our system and the yellow pipe is where we discharge back into the cooling water," said Shen.

Locating the desalination pilot plant next to the power plant allows Cal-Am to tap into an existing water supply. The power plant already pulls water from the harbor for its cooling system. The pilot plant takes a fraction of that cooling water for desalination. "So we have basically 100 gallons per minute of water coming in from the green pipe. And then we split, 50 gallons of water goes into this ultra filtration system," added Shen. The other 50 gallons goes into a different ultra filtration system. This highlights one of the purposes of the pilot plant. Cal-Am is testing different components in search of the most efficient and cost-effective system.

Cal-Am must also prove that the pilot plant can successfully desalinate water at this location, and that the water meets state and regional standards. Five months into the one-year testing period, Cal-Am officials say the water is meeting those standards. The pilot plant produces about 22,000 gallons of drinkable water a day. The full scale plant could produce 11-million gallons.

"The successful start-up and operation by Cal-Am of this desalination pilot plant is really the physical evidence that we're closer than we've been at any point in the last thirty years to a solution to the Monterey Peninsula's Water supply problem," said Dave Berger, Cal-Am Manager of Coastal Water Projects.

Still this project is not a done deal. Right now, the California Public Utilities Commission is working on a draft Environmental Impact Report comparing this plant, a possible Cal-Am Desalination plant in Marina, and an alternate proposal called Water for Monterey County. The draft EIR should be complete by the end of January.

If the Moss Landing Desalination Plant is favored, a full scale plant could be up and running in 2015 at cost of more than $200-million-dollars.