Beth Buczynski

Drought-Stricken California Breaks Ground on the Largest Seawater Desalination Plant in the Western Hemisphere

by , 02/27/14
filed under: News, Water Issues

california drought, drought in california, water crisis in california, desalination plant, desalination in california, drinking water, how to make drinking water, drinking the oceanCracked ground image via Shutterstock

California is currently experiencing its worst drought in 500 years. Although it’s always been an arid state, there’s reason to believe that California’s current crisis is being made worse by climate change. After announcing that it will not give water to farmers, the state has turned its discussion to the ocean. With more than two-thirds of California still under extreme drought conditions, the state has invested $1 billion in a massive desalination plant that will turn ocean brine into potable water. When finished in early 2016, the plant is expected to provide up to 50 million gallons of fresh drinkable water–enough for 112,000 Californian households–every day.


california drought, drought in california, water crisis in california, desalination plant, desalination in california, drinking water, how to make drinking water, drinking the ocean, desalination plant in Israel

In its quest to find a way to keep an entire state–including a large agricultural industry–well hydrated, California has taken a page from Israel’s playbook. As a country that is more desert than not, Israel has pioneered water conservation and generation technologies for six decades. In that country, desalination now provides about one-quarter of the country’s water supply, and Israeli engineers are now sharing their knowledge and experience with California.

Israel’s IDE Technologies Ltd. is helping to build the massive new desalination plant, which will use reverse osmosis to make normally deadly ocean water potable for humans and animals. The process works by “taking water from the Pacific Ocean, removing the silt, sand and ‘organics,’ then pressurizing the water through very fine membranes,” says Peter MacLaggan, a developer with Poseidon Resources, which is working on the plant.

Related: Could Solar-Powered Desalination Solve California’s Water Supply Problem?

The best part, says MacLaggan, is that desalination is “droughtproof,” meaning that it doesn’t depend on melting snowpack or rainfall–both of which are increasingly lacking as the planet warms. Although that term may comfort Californians, those working on the project are quick to point out that desalination isn’t a silver bullet. It’s extremely expensive, consumes a lot of energy, and can treat a limited amount of water at a time. Regardless of the plant’s success, officials say water recycling and conservation efforts are still sorely needed.

Via NPR

Related: California Declares State of Emergency as Drought Grows More Serious

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5 Comments

  1. feline74 April 18, 2014 at 3:32 am

    Another good reason for solar distillation–the process can be kept up until all you have left is sea salt. No brine to dispose of AND a potentially usable resource.

    Better still (sorry . . .) would be to combine this with other methods like water recycling and harvesting of icebergs from the melting ice-caps.

  2. James38 March 4, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    The article omits mention of the energy source for the plant. Since Global Warming is the cause of the drought problem, and is caused itself by burning fossil fuels, it would make a huge amount of sense to use a non-carbon energy source. California has pushed hard for the development of Solar power, but that is problematical since solar is a variable source, and to use as grid power must have backup energy sources. Those, even the CCGT (Combined Cycle Gas Turbine) – the most efficient – cost so much and have, along with the solar plant itself, such a large carbon footprint, that the benefits of Solar power for grid use are essentially obviated. However, the Desalination plant could be designed to use intermittent power, and could therefore use solar power not run through the grid. That would create problems with energy delivery – added transmission lines, or pumping the water to a plant near the solar farm, but the benefits could outweigh these costs.

    The Best solution to the energy problem is to develop LFTR/MSR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors/Molten Salt Reactors) which are totally fail-safe and can use existing stockpiles of nuclear “Waste” as fuel. These reactors are far less expensive to build than the LWRs in use now – water cooled and moderated solid fuel reactors – that among other things inevitably produce more “nuclear Waste”.

    LFTR/MSR are so safe they can be built near the point of use – a city and/or a large desalination plant. There is no need to isolate them or build lengthy transmission lines. Eventually when enough LFTR/MSR electric generation plants are operating, one of the major cost savings will be the great reduction in need for a large-scale grid – which also reduces the danger of solar flare damage.

    LFTR/MSR are the global energy source for the future. See “Super Fuel” by Richard Martin, and “Thorium: Energy Cheaper Than Coal” by Robert Hargraves.

  3. pvhonk March 1, 2014 at 11:15 am

    We proposed the Air-to-Water technology in 2009 to California’s State governor and the Farmers. Scalable, modulair and sustainable forever (almost) this technology brings clean water to everyone without using additional energy sources. Check out the household version that makes 600 liters of water per day. http://www.h2onsite.com

  4. Tafline Laylin Tafline Laylin February 28, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Thanks Dan, that’s a great, thoughtful response. Hopefully it won’t take too long to develop solar-powered plants as well, which would at least mitigate the energy load problem. – Tafline

  5. Dan Rezaiekhaligh February 28, 2014 at 12:34 am

    They have lots of sun, why not make a giant solar still? The steam generated could push a turbine and as it cools you could collect it. the resulting salt could be refined as a sodium heat transfer medium so solar concentrators indirectly heat the water. It doesn’t have to be a single solution and you could set these up all over. Maybe the solution isn’t one big glass of water but a thousand drips.

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