Water industry veteran pivotal in fate of milestone desalination plant
San Diego County water chief Bob Yamada points to Peter MacLaggan as a true visionary and persistent leader in moving to completion the nation’s first large-scale seawater desalination plant, in Carlsbad, Calif., and offering a template for other water-strapped municipalities in North America.
Over more than a decade, MacLaggan, vice president of Poseidon Resources, showed “a lot of persistence and patience” in seeking permits for the project, which had many skeptics and opponents. It began operating successfully in December and is the largest such commercial plant in North America, says Yamada, director of water resources for the county’s water authority.
Before the $1-billion project was built, no large-scale seawater desalination plant had been permitted in California, Yamada adds. “Largely because of Peter’s efforts, the project received the permits it needed to go forward and, ultimately, into construction,” he says.
Poseidon, the project’s developer and owner, negotiated a 30-year water purchase agreement with the authority to provide up to 56,000 acre-ft of water per year—enough to supply some 400,000 people and become a major component of the agency’s strategy to diversify its water portfolio (see related story, p. 13).
Some industry sources add that MacLaggan was so successful as project advocate and executive because he knew what he was talking about, having worked in the water industry since the 1970s. He began as an engineer with a unit of General Atomic, the company that was the world’s first to commercialize reverse-osmosis spiral-membrane technology.
“When you’ve grown up in this industry … you know what [membrane technology] is capable of doing, and you’ve seen it applied successfully so many times around the world,” says Doug Eisberg, director at the International Desalination Association. “Peter didn’t lose his focus. He knew in his heart that this was a good solution, and he worked so long and so hard on this.”