Can a controversial desalination plant ease California’s drought?
Spurred on by the western megadrought, the California Coastal Commission is expected to vote this week on a controversial $1.4 billion desalination plant near Huntington State Beach. Proponents say it could help the drinking water shortage. Skeptics claim marine life will pay the price.
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Poseidon Water paints a rosy picture. “The proposed seawater desalination facility will provide 50 million gallons of water per day (50 MGD) to Orange County residents while using existing infrastructure to reduce construction costs – a major factor in making water affordable. The 100% carbon-neutral facility will ensure there is sufficient high-quality water to meet demands and protect Southern California against the public health, security and economic consequences of water shortages,” reads its website.
Most people in Orange County currently depend on local groundwater, and water from the Sacramento Delta and the Colorado River. On the surface, it might seem like a no-brainer to tap into the gazillion gallons of salty water just offshore.
However, for every 106m gallons of seawater the desalination plant sucks in each day, it will produce 50m gallons of potable water. The rest will be a salty concentrate that will be returned to the ocean. And even though that 106m gallons will enter the plant through a screen with 1 millimeter mesh, plankton and fish larvae will perish and perhaps throw off the marine ecosystem.
The plant would sit in Superfund central, a partially remediated site in an industrial area boasting a wastewater treatment farm and a former oil tank farm and dump. Nearby disadvantaged communities say they’re already inhaling enough contaminants, thank you very much.
If Poseidon Water prevails, the company could start building as soon as next spring, and have the plant operating three years later. It would be the 13th desalinization plant in California, and one of the biggest in the US.
When asked for comment, Poseidon, god of the sea, brandished his trident in the direction of Huntington Beach and thundered something about unauthorized use of his name.