Bay Area Regional Desalination Project
In our region, where drought can occur as often as once every three years, reliable water sources are vital. Taking the salt out of briny water, though possible, has been expensive. The Bay Area has ready supplies of salty water, and the cost of desalination has gone down, though questions remain about environmental impacts. Today, five Bay Area water agencies, which jointly serve more than 5.6 million residents and businesses, are investigating a regional desalination project. The agencies are studying several options that could provide about 20 to 50 million gallons per day (mgd). EBMUD typically provides an average of 161 mgd of water for 1.3 million customers.
This regional project:
- Improves supply reliability by adding a drinking water source available when state and federal water supply contracts limit local deliveries, during extended droughts, and during emergencies like earthquakes or levee failures.
- Increases system flexibility so water treatment plants, pipelines and pump stations can be taken out of service for maintenance or repairs.
- Assures environmental protections safeguard San Francisco Bay and the Delta.
- Makes use of existing infrastructure to make water supplies more reliable while keeping costs low.
The Contra Costa Water District, EBMUD, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District were original partners in the Bay Area Regional Desalination Project investigation. The Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District - Zone 7 joined the team in 2010.
Workplan and Schedule
The partner agencies began investigating regional desalination in 2003 and found three sites (eastern Contra Costa County, Oakland near the Bay Bridge and San Francisco) that meet feasibility criteria. A six-month pilot test was completed, which confirmed the technical viability of a project in East Contra Costa County along the Delta.
The project partners are conducting public outreach and site specific analysis of the potential impacts on the Delta of operating a plant at that site, of water delivery options, and of ways to make desalination there as energy-efficient as possible.
Costs for preliminary technical studies (about $2.5 million) were supported by California state grant funds, and the remaining costs were equally shared among the original four partners. The cost to plan, design and construct a regional desalination facility would depend on the use and the location of facilities. A project at the East Contra Costa location that could deliver 20 million gallons per day to Bay Area homes and businesses would cost $150 million or more, with construction occurring in phases over time.
The project partners are conducting site-specific analysis to evaluate potential impacts on the fragile Delta environment and confirm that the potable water produced at the East Contra Costa location could be delivered to other regions of the Bay Area. The partners are reaching out to the public and stakeholders to share the findings of the analysis and solicit input. That work is expected to continue through 2012. Federal funding support for further research and project planning is being sought.
For More Information
Hasan Abdullah, Desalination Project Coordinator
Phone: (510) 287-0550
Published Studies and Other Resources
The pilot test report and other available reports can be viewed on the Bay Area Regional Desalination Project website.