California county mulls tapping into nuclear plant desalination

As part of its plans to combat ongoing severe drought, California’s San Luis Obispo County (SLO) is considering the construction of a 10 km pipeline to tap into the spare capacity of a desalination plant currently providing only the needs of a nuclear power plant.

And the county’s board of supervisors has moved closer to a decision on plans to construct seawater desalination facilities following the recent delivery of a report on the prospects for the technology. The report said: “A regional desalination project may be an appropriate solution for San Luis Obispo County to address water supply issues when integrated with the communities’ goals and strategies.”

The supervisors voted to direct county staff to start planning the construction of a 10 km pipeline to carry desalinated water from a 3.2 Ml/d desalination plant nuclear power station at Avila Beach operated by power firm, Pacific General & Electric Diablo to South SLO County’s water distribution network from Lopez Lake.

Deputy Public Works director, Mark Hutchinson, told local press that the planing unprotect would cost up to US$ 500,000 and construction of the pipeline would cost up to US$ 11 million. He said the county would seek state grants for drought relief to offset the costs.

The Diablo Canyon desalination facility has been operating at 40% capacity to meet the power station’s needs. SLO county struck a water sharing agreement with PG&E in May to provide desalinated water to the county’s Office of Emergency Services to reduce the use of local water in fighting wildfires.

The desalination report identified other opportunities including expansion of other desalination facilities in Morro Bay and Cambria and co-locating new facilities on industrial sites.
“High energy use means high operating costs and, depending on the source of power, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of seawater desalination, environmental impacts must be properly mitigated to avoid harming marine life,” the report warned.

Local members of environmental group, Surfrider Foundation, slated the report saying it “barely scratched the surface” of the potential problems associated with desalination. It urged the county to look more to water conservation and reclamation. “Our communities need help fixing leaking pipes and distributing recycled water–now,”  said the foundation.


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