Mexico-U.S. cross-border desal project moves forward

Otay project receives Presidential Permit for cross-border water project, the first of its kind.

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SAN DIEGO, CA, JUNE 19, 2017 -- On May 16, 2017, the U.S. Department of State granted a presidential permit to allow the Otay Water District to build a nearly four-mile potable water pipeline that begins at the U.S.-Mexico border. This permit authorizes the District to "construct, connect, operate, and maintain cross-border water pipeline facilities for the importation of desalinated seawater at the International Boundary between the United States and Mexico in San Diego County, California." Purchasing and transporting water Aguas de Rosarito's $421 million desalination plant in Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico, is a component of the District's water supply diversification efforts. The Rosarito plant could potentially produce water to meet up to two-thirds of the District's projected water use by 2024.

In light of the growing need for new potable water supplies in Mexico and San Diego County, the proposed Rosarito plant and the District's $30 million Otay Mesa Conveyance and Disinfection System Project would provide a new drought-proof water supply to its customers. The District currently provides water service to a population of more than 223,000 people, which is expected to increase to more than 308,000 by 2050.

The Rosarito facility would produce up to 100-million gallons of water daily in two phases. The first phase, expected to be operational by late 2019 or early 2020, would make 50-million gallons or more of desalinated water available daily to the Tijuana/Rosarito region. The second phase, expected to be completed by 2024, would deliver up to an additional 50-million gallons daily, with 10 to 30 percent of that water available to the District.

The Otay Mesa Conveyance and Disinfection System Project will be the first cross-border project of its kind to import water to the U.S. from Mexico. Otay currently maintains the only two existing presidential permits for water crossings along the U.S.-Mexico Border. The District's other cross-border pipeline allows Mexico to transport and import Mexican Colorado River apportionment water through the U.S. facility to Tijuana.

The project has undergone environmental review as required by the California Environmental Quality Act and National Environmental Policy Act and has obtained a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biological permit. The District also applied for a permit from the California Water Resources Control Board's Division of Drinking Water to ensure that water imported from Mexico meets the same water quality drinking standards as water from regional lakes, from the Claude "Bud" Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, and from the City of San Diego's Pure Water Program.

"Although there are still several hurdles to overcome, receiving the presidential permit for this project is a giant leap for the District and its customers so we have more control over our local water supply," said Mark Watton, the District's general manager. "Desal water from Rosarito would be a closer and highly reliable source water."

The District continues to diversify its water resources, to reduce its dependence on traditional water supplies from the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It also continues to maximize the use of recycled water and succeed in its water conservation efforts. For more details on the Otay Mesa Conveyance and Disinfection System Project and Rosarito Desalination Plant project, click here.

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