MONTEREY, Calif. – Drought-stricken communities along the California coast are exploring innovation and investment to provide residents with access to drinking water. But desalination of seawater, one of the proposed solutions, has sparked a heated debate, as some environmentalists say the process is inefficient, expensive and unnecessary.
The California Coastal Commission will decide next month whether to approve a private company’s bid to build a $ 1.4 billion seawater desalination facility in Huntington Beach, southeast of Los Angeles. The approval limits the 15-year permitting process for Southern California to have a second, large-scale seawater desalination facility – joining another in Carlsbad, which opened fully in 2015.
This facility, located north of San Diego, provides the region with a tenth of the drinking water. Producing 50 million gallons a day, it is the largest such facility 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 facilities in more than 120 countries. In the American West, this technology has not yet been widely used and remains controversial. But two years of drought have prompted officials to look for new ways to compensate for the severe depletion of aquifers and water bodies, prompting California, Arizona and other states to think about expanding desalination.
On the central coast of California, the company is developing a seawater desalination plant that will provide drinking water to the population from Santa Cruz south to Monterey. In the southern part of Orange County, near Doeni State Beach, the coastal community may soon also have a smaller desalination plant.