California hopes to ease drought woes with ocean water

The Western drought is getting worse, and California still bears the brunt.

In the town of East Porterville, near Bakersfield, underground wells dried up, leaving nearly 1,000 people without water.

County emergency workers and volunteers are going door to door with bottled drinking water, and now, the desperate search for solutions is turning offshore, CBS News' Ben Tracy reports.

What will be the largest water desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere has been built in San Diego.

The $1 billion plant, being built by a private company, will suck in 100 million gallons of water per day from the Pacific Ocean, strip out the salt using an elaborate filtration system and turn it into 50 million gallons of drinking water, enough for 300,000 San Diego County residents.

"There is no more cheap water available," said Sandy Kerl, who currently runs the San Diego Water Authority.

The company currently imports a majority of its water from drought-ravaged parts of California and the Colorado River Basin. San Diego will buy all of the water the Carlsbad plant will produce starting next year. Water bills will increase about $5 to $7 per month to cover the cost.

"It will represent 7 percent of our total water supply," Kerl said. "It's a significant chunk of water that, in the event of a drought, will be 100 percent reliable for this region."

The only other major desalination plant in the country is in Tampa. Until now, they have been considered too expensive to build and operate in the U.S. But California's unending drought has made it necessary.

And to citizens who may complain that water prices are going to be too high, Kerl says, "if you go and turn on your faucet and no water comes out is that water too expensive? If you don't have it, it's not too expensive."

At least two more desalination plants are in the planning stage along the California coast.

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