A parched West remains divided on seawater desalination

MONTEREY, Calif. – Drought-ridden communities along the California coast are exploring innovations and investments to ensure residents have access to clean drinking water. But seawater desalination, a proposed solution, has caused heated debate, as some environmentalists say the process is inefficient, expensive and wasteful.

The California Coastal Commission will decide next month whether to approve a private company’s application to build a $1.4 billion seawater desalination facility in Huntington Beach, southeast of California. Los Angeles. An approval would limit a 15-year permitting process to bring Southern California to its second large-scale seawater desalination facility – joining another in Carlsbad that fully opened in 2015.

This facility, just north of San Diego, supplies the region with one-tenth of its drinking water. Producing 50 million gallons per day, it is the largest facility of its type in North America.

Many countries with limited access to fresh water, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, depend on desalination. Worldwide, there are more than 21,000 desalination plants in more than 120 countries. In the American West, the technology has not yet been widely used and remains controversial. But two years of drought have prompted officials to find new ways to offset the severe depletion of aquifers and reservoirs, prompting California, Arizona and other states to consider expanding desalination.

On California’s central coast, a company is developing a seawater desalination plant that would supply drinking water to communities from Santa Cruz south to Monterey. In the southern part of Orange County near Doheny State Beach, the coastal community may soon have a smaller desalination facility as well.

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