ANTIOCH (KPIX) — California could be on its way to a having new water desalination plant in the city of Antioch.

That city pulls its water from the delta, when it’s fresh. There’s a $60 million plan to change that.

“It’s public water,” says Mayor Sean Wright. “Antioch has unique water rights, pre-1913, some of the oldest in California, which allow us to pump out of the Delta, as long as there’s fresh water.”

On the edge of the San Joaquin River, yet still on the edge of reliable water, the city of Antioch now has $10 million dollars to pursue some water insurance via desalination.

“We already have the water intake system, the treatment facility – nothing has to be rebuilt,” says Mayor Wright. “We can utilize what we already have.”

The water would still come from a pipe on the river, but when it reaches this existing treatment plant it would also pass through a yet-to-be-constructed desalination facility. As for the leftover brine, it would pass back into the river through the existing Delta Diablo treatment plant.

“It’s built-in. It’s a system that’s been working,” says Mayor Wright. “But when there’s a drought we don’t have fresh water to pull, it’s brackish and we can’t treat the salt.”

Desalination is great in theory but notoriously expensive in practice. Santa Barbara actually built a plant only to mothball it for years because desalination traditionally requires a lot of energy, which in turn, raises the price tag. Antioch’s mayor says its situation is different.

“Antioch sits at the brackish water point which means the salt water levels are less than ocean water, so the energy costs that go into it are way cheaper.”

Even if operations pencil out for Antioch, the $10 million just awarded by the state would leave at least another $50 million in construction costs. The mayor says this is a long-term strategy for the state’s ever-changing water chessboard.

“If the tunnels go through, the Delta potentially gets more salty. As that it becomes more salty, our water rights to freshwater, it’s longer fresh. It’s now saltwater.”

Antioch is one of 4 cities to receive a desalination grant from California’s Proposition 1 water bonds.

One of the others went to Santa Barbara. That city plans to spend it’s $10 million dollars to fully reactivate its mothballed plant built back in 1991.

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