Published: January 14, 2016

    Controversial California Desalination Plant Going Online

    During a historic drought, hearing that a desalination plant in the heart of California is about to convert 56 million gallons of seawater into drinkable tap water each day seems too good to be true, and perhaps it is. The Poseidon Desalination Plant in Carlsbad aims to supply the San Diego area with potable drinking water at $2,257 per acre-foot. That cost nearly triples the already hefty $800 per acre-foot price the city pays for fresh water from the San Joaquin Delta.

    The realities of a desalination plant highlight the grim truth that there are no easy or quick answers to deal with a situation as devastating as the current drought. Californians already pay a comparative premium for utilities. Currently the average price for electricity to a single unit is 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), compared to 8.95 cents per kWh in Nevada. This desalination plant cost nearly $1 billion to develop, and the costs will continue to trickle down to citizens as operations get underway.

    The desalination plant is environmentally dubious at best. It had to overcome 14 legal battles to begin operations. Many detractors claim it will do more harm than good. For example, 100 percent of marine life pulled into the desalination plant will immediately perish due to its cold-water intake pipes. A toxic brine discharge plume will most likely destroy much fish and marine life in the area as the desalination plant starts its operations.

    Desalination plants aren’t a novel concept. They have a very spotty reputation and history in the United States: The Santa Barbara desalination plant quickly constructed during the 1980s drought was deemed too expensive to run after its completion. The Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination facility bankrupted its builder in the early 2000s and never ran at full capacity due to the astronomical costs. Desalination plants have had more success abroad in desert climates in such countries as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Australia.

    The technology that desalination plants utilize, reverse osmosis, was invented in the 1950s in California. In our previous blog post, we broke down the exact science behind desalination: Salt water is forced through a semi-permeable membrane. Extreme pressure is applied so that the water molecules move through the membrane, effectively separating from the larger sodium molecules. Desalination sounds ideal, but plants making use of this technology require incredible amounts of energy to fully function.

    Though desalination has long seemed impractical at such a large scale due to the considerable cost, the severity of the drought is forcing California outside the box to alleviate its water supply shortage. Salt-free water is vitally important, and even in fresh water environments, citizens should take all the necessary precautions to ensure the drinkability of their water by removing sodium. For reliably higher-quality drinking water on a smaller scale, we recommend installing a Pelican Water 6-stage Reverse Osmosis filtering system in your home. Our system follows the same scientific processes purify your drinking water from contaminants and they also filter out harmful chemicals like chlorine and minerals.