Can Desalination Projects Remedy California’s Drought Problem?

The scarcity of water in California has reached astounding levels. The state is looking to various means and resources to remedy this situation. According to Scripps, about 20 water agencies up and down the California coast are favoring desalination projects as a method to deal with drought.

photo credit: Poseidon ResourcesThe Carlsbad Desalination Project by Poseidon Resources
The Carlsbad Desalination Project by Poseidon Resources

“People are worried about water supply,” said Michael Carlin, assistant general manager of water at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. “Desalination is for drought supply, for an emergency, and it augments existing supply — it’s another tool in our toolbox.”

Poseidon Resources, a Connecticut based water infrastructure development company, has recently gained approval from California state regulators to build the Western Hemisphere’s largest desalination plant in Carlsbad (near San Diego). The $300 million Carlsbad Desalination Project will have significant economic benefits for the region, including an estimated $170 million in spending during construction, 2,100 jobs created during construction and $37 million in annual spending throughout the region once the desalination plant is operational.

But desalination is a highly contested issue as many environmentalists regard it as a quick fix that can cause more harm in the long term, than good. The briny byproduct of desalination is typically dumped into the ocean and tends to sink to the bottom as a salty, oxygen deficient plume. This can be detrimental to marine life and fisheries nearby.

Food & Water Watch has put together a list of reasons as to why communities should think twice before diving into desalination projects. Read more about this here.

Written by Reenita Malhotra


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  1. Jeff, according to Food & Water Watch, ocean desalination projects can be 10 times as energy intensive as other supply sources.

    According to Meng Lean, manager of microfluidic systems at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), the energy cost of desalination runs at about eight times that of conventional water, with the most efficient plants requiring 15 watts per gallon, per hour. See this link:

    Now in North Africa and the Middle East, there is a push to a push to shift to alternative sources of energy, such as solar energy, since solar radiation is abundant in this region all year round. See this link:

    GE Global Research, is also developing affordable water desalination systems powered by renewable energy.

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