The US$ 1 billion Carlsbad seawater desalination plant in San Diego County, California has opened.

The Western Hemisphere’s largest seawater desalination plant has been built to help tackle the state’s drought now in its fifth year. The 200 Ml/d plant could supply 10% of the county’s water demand.

But the plant is not needed immediately. Local responses to a mandate by California governor Jerry Brown for conservation measures have left the county with a water surplus. And California officials have been emphasizing water conservation, expansion of reservoirs and water recycling as chief ways to tackle the drought.

Seawater desalination has not played a major role in California’s responses to its drought to date. But should Carlsbad perform in line with expectations, desalination could take a leading part as there are some 15 other desalination projects at the proposal stage.

San Diego Democrat Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins said: “We’ve now established a model, not just for San Diego County but for other plants up and down the coastline, so that we can make sure California’s future is bright and that we have the water we need.”

Boston-based Poseidon Water owns and operates Carlsbad. The region’s main water agency, San Diego County Water Authority, is buying the desalinated water under a 30-year purchase agreement. Poseidon is currently amid another giant seawater desalination project at Huntingdon Beach, California.