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Desalination Plant of the Year

For the desalination plant, commissioned during 2015, that represents the most impressive technical or ecologically sustainable achievement in the industry.

The Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, USA

What is it?

A 50MGD (189,250m³/d) SWRO desalination plant serving nearly 400,000 people in San Diego County, California.

Who is responsible?

The project was developed by a joint venture of Poseidon Resources and Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners under a 33-year build-own-operate contract with the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA). EPC work was carried out by a Kiewit/JF Shea team, while IDE Technologies was responsible for the design and supply of the desalination equipment. The pressure vessels were provided by Protec Arisawa, while Dow Water & Process Solutions supplied the reverse osmosis membranes. ERI furnished the energy recovery devices.

What makes it special?

The successful completion of the largest desalination plant in North America followed years of seemingly insurmountable technical, financial and legal hurdles. The tenacity shown by the developer team is matched only by the importance of seawater desalination as a key part of the solution to California’s water crisis.

A canny combination of state-of-the art energy recovery technology with an external energy offsetting programme makes Carlsbad the first major infrastructure project in the state of California to completely neutralise its carbon footprint. The carbon offsetting programme helped fund the regeneration of forest areas decimated by wildfires in 2007.


The repurposing of an existing seawater intake pipe formed a crucial plank of the developer’s plans to minimise the impact on the surrounding environment. At the same time, Poseidon retained its green credentials by partnering with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to create, restore and enhance 66 acres of vulnerable local wetland.


Ghalilah SWRO, Ras Al Khaimah, UAE

What is it?

A low-energy seawater desalination plant in the United Arab Emirates, with a capacity of 15MIGD (68,190m³/d). The $82 million contract to build the plant was awarded in 2011 and completed in 2015.

Who is responsible?

The plant was designed and built by Aquatech International under an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract with the client, the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA). SWRO membranes were provided by Toray, with UF membranes from X-Flow. ERI supplied the energy recovery devices.

What makes it special?

The Ghalilah plant rewrites the rules for energy consumption at large-scale desalination installations. Aquatech secured the contract to build the plant with an audacious energy performance bid of 3.14kWh/m³. In reality, the plant now operates at under 3kWh/m³, an unprecedented figure for full-scale membrane desalination. It is FEWA’s largest desal plant to date, and sets a new global benchmark for performance in membrane desalination.

By coupling a game-changing technical design with a highly competitive construction cost of just over $82 million, Aquatech has proved that innovation in desalination does not need to come with a sky-high price tag.


The operation of the Ghalilah plant takes full account of one of the most hostile feedwater sources around. The design features advanced pre-treatment and monitoring systems to protect against the risk of seasonal red tides, whilst coping with salinity levels as high as 42,000ppm. A veritable all-rounder.

The Global Water Awards 2018 is proudly sponsored by:

Evoqua logo, links to Evoqua homepage

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