South Bay supervisor pushes for desalination ship

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) -- Imagine a huge ship, anchored in San Francisco Bay, whose job is not to haul water, but turn salty bay and ocean water into fresh water.

A Silicon Valley lawmaker wants to do just that and much more.

Several dry years, low reservoirs and the current miniscule snow pack have put California on the edge of an epic water crisis.

"It's not the kind of solution that will wait any longer," said Dave Cortese, President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Cortese says the Bay Area needs to get a desalination ship into the Bay sooner rather than later.

"The ships, the mobile plants, have been used around the world. Obviously, they're mobile and at some level they can get here," explained Cortese.

Cortese says the next step would be to build fixed desalination plants soon thereafter.

"Our water agencies here in the nine counties of the Bay Area … together, can do what need to be done in terms of creating that kind of infrastructure," said the Supervisor.

San Diego opens up a new 50 million gallon a day plant next year to serve more than 100,000 homes. Santa Barbara is proposing reopening its mothballed de-sal plant. Other plants are in the early planning stages.

California currently has 16 de-sal plants including this one the Alameda County Water Agency built twelve years ago that makes 10 million gallons of fresh water out of slightly salty underground water. That water only has about three percent the salt of the ocean and the bay.

"It's proven to be helpful for us during this drought and it's actually a cost savings of about $4 million a year to the District," said Alameda County Water District spokeswoman Sharene Gonzales. In fact, when the water is finished, it is so pure that they actually have to add minerals back into it so it tastes good.

"This is really important as a part of our water supply portfolio. It's out cheapest source," said district environmental engineer Lyda Hakes. But that's because the water is only lightly salted.

Desalinating bay or ocean water requires much more energy and costs a lot more money.

"To pay for a desalination plant in this county might be as little as 40 or 50 bucks a year per resident. I think there are plenty of people in this community that would be willing to pay 4 or 5 bucks a month to make sure their water supply isn't interrupted," said Supervisor Cortese.

To prevent interruption, the cost of buying emergency supplies or transporting it in by train or tanker ship could be economically disastrous. But, even that expense would not be so disastrous as having a major shortage.