Newark desalination plant proves to be an asset during drought

David Louie Image
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
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A decision back in 2003 to build a small desalination plant in Newark is turning out to be a big help as water districts scramble during yet another drought year.

NEWARK, Calif. (KGO) -- Drought wasn't on anyone's mind back in 2003. But a decision to build a small desalination plant in the East Bay is turning out to be a big help as water districts scramble to find new water sources.

The desalination plant in Newark is proving to be a major benefit during the drought. But the drought wasn't the reason it was built.

"It helps to mitigate or offset some of the supplies during a drought and it is actually a cost-savings for us as well," said Sharene Gonzales with the Alameda County Water District. "We're saving about $4 million a year, and that we don't have to purchase more expensive water supplies."

It was built 12 years ago because of saltwater incursion into the groundwater basins that supply the cities of Fremont, Newark, and Union City. Area creeks and runoff feed into quarry lakes. The water percolates into the ground. But saltwater from San Francisco Bay has mixed in. Without desalination, the water is undrinkable.

"There was historic pumping issues here in this local area that drew the groundwater basin down, so it drew water from the bay actually in toward our groundwater basin, and we have an active recharge program to continue pushing that water out towards the bay, and the water in this area still tends to be a little bit brackish," said water production manager Laura Hidas.

The desalination plant puts the brackish water through reverse osmosis, using a microscopic membrane to filter out salt crystals and other minerals.

The water that comes out of this plant then is blended with some well water for taste and then is distributed right through the pipes to residences and businesses in Fremont, Newark, and Union City. And it tastes just like regular tap water.

The 10 million gallons of water produced each day gives the district flexibility in its water supply. Forty percent comes from local sources, while 60 percent is imported.

For full coverage on the drought, click here.

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