After decades of debate, Poseidon Water just needs approval from the commission to begin the construction of a desalination facility in Huntington Beach that would produce 50 million gallons of drinking water per day.
Poseidon Water already runs a desalination facility in Carlsbad which is the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The facility was built in 2015 and provides about 12% of the water used in San Diego County.
While desalination is not a new technology, it is controversial. Many communities have looked at desalination during times of drought but have been dissuaded by its cost and environmental impact.
Desalination is the process of converting seawater into drinking water by removing its salt content.
“The Pacific Ocean is the largest reservoir in the world. It’s always full and we have the technology to turn that saltwater into drinking water,” said Vice President for Project Development at Poseidon Water Scott Maloni.
Many countries have made big investments in desalination, especially in the Middle East.
Australia built several desalination plants during the “Millennium” drought but then shut many of them down when the drought ended. Several facilities are being restarted this year as drought conditions return.
California currently has 12 seawater desalination facilities in operation. The Huntington Beach proposal has the backing of Governor Gavin Newsom who said he wants to diversify the state’s water supply.
But environmentalists have concerns.
“Seawater desalination is one option for California, but it’s the most expensive option and it has significant energy and greenhouse gas impacts and it affects our marine environment,” said the Director of Research at the Pacific Institute Heather Cooley.
Critics of desalination worry about the amount of energy needed to extract salt from seawater which is done by reverse osmosis.
That’s a process that pushes water under high pressure through semi-permeable membranes effectively filtering out salts and minerals.
Historically, water has been cheap in California and that made desalination prohibitive. But that gap has narrowed as the cost of water has risen in the state.
The other concern is the environmental impact. While desalination can produce freshwater, it also generates brine, a highly concentrated salt water mixture that is then pumped back into the ocean.
The higher concentration of salt in the water can be damaging to marine life.
“When the water is discharged, it creates a plume around the discharge which is very salty. Even though marine organisms can handle salts, they do have a range in which they can handle it,” said Cooley.
To minimize the impact, California adopted strict environmental regulations around desalination…