Desalination gaining support as long-term response to CA drought

drought, california, flickrWith California’s snowpack at the lowest level in a century, Governor Jerry Brown announced Wednesday the first mandatory water reductions in state history.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow,” Governor Brown said at a press event in the Sierra Nevada mountains. “This historic drought demands unprecedented action. Therefore, I’m issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state.”

To combat the state’s ongoing drought, the governor has ordered the State Water Resources Control Board to implement a 25 percent reduction in water use by local water agencies. He’s also calling on water districts to adopt conservation pricing, a streamlined permitting process for water projects and an investment in new water infrastructure technologies.

“People should realize we are in a new era,” the governor said. “The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”

Water everywhere, but only fraction from the sea

While conservation is the key element of the state’s short-term drought response, those latter provisions of the governor’s plan have many Californians turning to desalination as a promising long-term solution to the state’s water needs.

“The Governor’s Executive Order issued today is consistent with the policy goals established in the state’s Water Action Plan and clearly demonstrates his commitment to developing new local water supplies including seawater desalination,” said Scott Maloni, vice-president of Poseidon Water, a water development company that specializes in desalination.

For hundreds of years, sailors have found ways to remove salt and other impurities from the earth’s salt water and turn it into drinking water. Today, that process has gone high-tech at more than 17,000 desalination plants in 150 countries around the world. According to the International Desalination Association, more than 300 million people use approximately 21.1 billion gallons of water produced from desalination every day.

desalination-processHowever, outside of the Middle East, where desalination is a vital component of the region’s water portfolio, desalination is responsible for just a fraction of the world’s drinking water.

“Even with all of the water in Earth’s oceans, we satisfy less than half a percent of human water needs with desalinated water,” Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute and author of the book, The World’s Water, pointed out to Scientific American. “The problem is that the desalination of water requires a lot of energy.”

As of 2013, the California Department of Water Resources estimated that desalinated water cost $2,000 an acre foot, or double the price of water from other sources. But, the high energy production costs aren’t stopping enterprising companies from entering the desalination market, rather it’s a lengthy and bureaucratic permitting process.

Desalination plants battle lengthy permitting process

Next year, a $1 billion desalination plant in Carlsbad is expected to come online and produce 50 million gallons per day — after years of permitting battles with city governments and state agencies.

“They went through seven or eight years of hell to get here,” Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, told the San Jose Mercury News last year. “But they stuck it out. They got it done. If it succeeds, it will encourage others to try. And if it fails, it will have a chilling effect.”

HB Desalination PlantPoseidon Water, which spearheaded the Carlsbad Desalination Project, is now working to gain final approvals from the California Coastal Commission on a desalination plant in Huntington Beach that would also produce 50 million gallons per day.

“A streamlined permitting process will significantly help our proposed Huntington Beach project become a reality,” said Maloni of Poseidon Water. “We are looking forward to bringing this project before the Coastal Commission for their approval this year and finally bringing a drought-proof water supply to millions of coastal residents.”

If the company gains its final discretionary approval from the Coastal Commission, the plant is scheduled to be operational by 2018. That’s not soon enough, given the state’s dwindling water supplies. Earlier this year, the Orange County Water District announced its intention to buy all of the 56,000 acre-feet of water produced by the plant.

“Desalination should be front and center”

The longer the drought persists, the more likely parched water agencies will be to add desalination plants as a component of their water portfolios.

“While conservation is a must, looking at ways to overcome the obstacles that have thwarted previous efforts on desalination should now be front and center in the water deliberations,” writes Joel Fox, editor of Fox & Hounds Daily. “Proposals to desalinate water from the Pacific Ocean have run into environmental concerns and cost issues. … The thinking on the cost issue is changing, however, because of the severity of the drought, the increased value of water, and potential energy resources to make the process work.”

In order to change thinking about desalination, it will require overcoming challenges from environmentalists, who view desalination as a precursor to more development.

“If you’re going to do something like desal, you want to make sure you’re doing everything you can in terms of conservation, water recycling, water re-use,” Susan Jordan of the California Coastal Protection Network told KQED, “and you don’t want unsustainable development that just perpetuates your problem, or the state’s problem.”

21 comments

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  1. Dave Chapman
    Dave Chapman 2 April, 2015, 10:20

    This is painfully stupid. Water from desalination costs a lot of money, because it requires lots of energy.

    Anybody who seriously proposes desalination is completely out of touch with reality.

    Reply this comment
    • Jerry
      Jerry 2 April, 2015, 11:49

      You need to get your facts correct before you mouth off. The cost of water to the south from the north once it is delivered to the consumer is nearly the same. It will only raise the water bill $5 dollars a month on the average. Oh by the way where do you think you are going to get the water. Not from the north or Colorado. Water is needed to raise food not to fill your swimming pool.

      Reply this comment
    • Bruce
      Bruce 2 April, 2015, 14:59

      So what do you propose to do in a severe, life-changing drought? Those droughts of epic proportion.

      Reply this comment
    • J Taylor
      J Taylor 2 April, 2015, 15:03

      Solar panels require lots of fossil fuel energy to manufacture, too!

      Reply this comment
  2. Bruce
    Bruce 2 April, 2015, 10:32

    Perhaps Brown should have built more water storage in the past. Now, with funding, it’s reported that he spent $700 million to figure out how to spend the billions. What would happen if we got a deluge of water today…lost opportunity to store. I do like all possible means for water as Ca. agriculture may be so important in the future if a prediction of climate change due to solar hibernation comes true and farming north of 45 degrees latitude disappears.http://www.spaceandscience.net/

    Reply this comment
  3. Bill
    Bill 2 April, 2015, 17:02

    Want a legacy? Desalinate!

    Use solar energy to support!

    Find a solution, do not propose treating symptoms, and reliance on natural weather results. Had we started back in the 70’s when we had a big drought, we would be there now.

    Reply this comment
  4. Bill Gore
    Bill Gore 2 April, 2015, 20:27

    Desalination is a very workable, common sense answer to SoCal’s water needs. Located on the vast Pacific ocean, with an abundance of sunlight that can be used to power these plants, desal is THE answer to the drought. Of course the enviros have thrown EVERYTHING at it to try and stop it. But they have FAILED…

    Reply this comment
  5. Queeg
    Queeg 2 April, 2015, 20:41

    Comrades

    Your opportunity to buy a job……unions for desalination!

    Something stinks about all these scarce thingees……

    Reply this comment
  6. Donkey
    Donkey 2 April, 2015, 22:50

    Maybe we could put a hold on the “super fast Jerry train” and put the cash to some real tangible use like water!!

    Dave up above, desalination takes place all over the world, to say “people are out of touch with reality” makes you sound foolish. Engineers can devise passive systems that use tides and head pressure , along with solar and wind pumps. Go back to eating your rice cakes dude! 🙂

    Reply this comment
  7. Bill -San Jose
    Bill -San Jose 3 April, 2015, 04:51

    I’ve posted here since day one about 30 reservoirs with 30 hydro electric plants.

    It’s about the future not the red legged tree frog society of thinking.

    Reply this comment
    • Mr. Reasonable
      Mr. Reasonable 3 April, 2015, 10:16

      Bill has it right, and the party in power for last 30 years have done NOTHING.
      I like the concept floating around via Columbia River / Portland – pipe line down I-5 and dump into Lake Shasta. 500 miles, like Alaska Pipeline, and no whining Greens complaining about possible spills. This could work if engineered correctly, and funding could come from the STUPID Train to nowhere………
      Gee, if Auburn Dam was built, would we be in this mess? Inquiring minds want to know.
      Oh, let’s see. $640 Million for levy repair, and 2 days later, more construction permits for North Natomas housing permits.
      As always, follow the money eh?
      Last but not least. CA population doubled in last 30 years…..
      Perhaps majority party should put the same effort into water that they do for the plastic bag phenom! NOT! Dorks…………..

      Reply this comment
      • Bill Gore
        Bill Gore 3 April, 2015, 13:47

        As far as a pipeline from the Columbia River down the 5 goes, as an oregonian I PROMISE you it’s gonna be ‘HELL NO’. You ARE on your own in this one California! You will NOT buy beg or steal our precious northwest water!!

        Reply this comment
  8. Dork
    Dork 3 April, 2015, 08:16

    “and you don’t want unsustainable development that just perpetuates your problem, or the state’s problem.”

    I wonder if she means welcoming 5 million Illegal Aliens into the State

    Reply this comment
  9. UrsusSiara
    UrsusSiara 4 April, 2015, 02:36

    When I read the gov. Comments it is clear that he is using
    the current Drought as an excuse to force another social
    engineering experiment down our throats while consolidating
    Govt. power by squeezing (again) the middle class (or what’s
    left of it. Huff post had some of the same quotes from the “event”
    Only they included not only comments about lawns but also
    Mentioned “gardens”. So now they are after the families vegetables?
    Nice to do in hard times, eh? The wealthy can afford to pay the
    higher prices at the meter ( and chances are there will be some type
    Of loophole for the right people ( thinking carbon credits). Of course,
    Those on fixed incomes ( read welfare, food stamps, etc.) will also
    be exempt due to “financial hardship” (just like your grocery bags)
    leaving another burden on the shoulders of those who actuay
    produce. Here’s an idea…why not spend all that regulatory dinero
    on a tax rebate for everyone that puts in a gray water filtration and
    Reclamation system in their home or business? The vast majority
    of waste dumped into the sewers is from sinks and drains (vs. toilets)
    and does not require a whole lot of treatment to reclaim
    (even for potable water) .

    Reply this comment
  10. desmond
    desmond 5 April, 2015, 16:44

    Where is Almost Dead Ted?

    Reply this comment
    • Ulysses Uhaul
      Ulysses Uhaul 5 April, 2015, 21:50

      Acild was born today that will grow up Desi and wheel your old body into a home and slam the door shut….

      Reply this comment
  11. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 5 April, 2015, 21:51

    A child

    Reply this comment
  12. desmond
    desmond 7 April, 2015, 03:29

    Ted, Ahaul, .Queen, Yup, part if life you mooching aged entitled hunk of human waste.

    Reply this comment
    • Ulysses Uhaul
      Ulysses Uhaul 7 April, 2015, 21:18

      Desi. We treat you fair and balanced with wisdom of the ages…..when you were in your gilded crib, we were in the military protecting you, so you could grow up and become something positive….
      …please don’t disappoint-

      Reply this comment
  13. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 10 October, 2015, 15:21

    Eco-Wackos will oppose desalinization claiming it would disrupt the harmony of the oceans and anger the fishes espicialy eco-freak luddies like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club

    Reply this comment

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John Hrabe

John Hrabe

John Hrabe spends his time traveling the world as a freelance journalist. When he isn’t on an international flight, John writes about California politics for CalWatchdog.com and CalNewsroom.com.

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