Marin County's Desalination Plant On Hold

Over the past 10 years, Marin County has dramatically reduced its water usage. As such, plans for its desalination plant near the Rod and Gun Club at the foot of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge have been placed indefinitely on the back burner. 

Desalination is a process that removes salts and minerals from saline water, providing water that is fit for human consumption. This process for obtaining potable water is costly but, according to Christopher Gasson of Global Water Intelligence, "At the moment, around 1% of the world's population are dependent on desalinated water to meet their daily needs, but by 2025, the UN expects 14% of the world's population to be encountering water scarcity. Unless people get radically better at water conservation, the desalination industry has a very strong future indeed."

According to the Marin Municipal Water District's 5-year Urban Water Management Plan, barring a major drought the “district has adequate supply to meet future demand through 2040 in average years and in the first two years of a multiple-year drought.”

Ten years ago, Marin was consuming 36,000 acre feet of water per year (one acre foot equals 325,851 gallons). This resulted in a concern that there would be a significant deficit between water usage and supply.

In August 2009, the water district approved a $115 million desalination plant, able to produce 5 millions gallons a day with the capability to expand production to 15 million.

Only a year later, the project was halted as water usage had dramatically declined. According to water board member Larry Bragman, “We have conserved our way out of it. We have created a reservoir of conservation.”

Today, Marin County is using 21,000 acre feet annually. Bragman credits people’s habits as well as better plumbing fixtures, removal of large swaths of water-thirsty turf and district water recycling plans in helping drive down demand.

“By pushing conservation, we fundamentally altered what the demand projections are, and at the fraction of the cost of desalination,” said Cynthia Koehler, water board president. “In many ways Marin is a model of where California is going.”

Thought the plant is on an unlimited hold, it hasn't been completely halted.

Water board member Jack Gibson said desalination is no longer discussed as an option but states the district can only survive a drought for two years before customers would face severe, mandatory reductions in water consumption.

“We are in sound shape as long as we won’t have extreme drought,” he said. “There is no need to bring in a mega-project like desalination for the time being, but it would be good to have on the back burner in an event like that.”


Article excerpt from ©2016 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)