Seawater Desalination in SoCal

Southern California may not be the driest place on Planet Earth, but we sure don’t get much rain.  It’s a bit amusing at times to hear of “droughts” lasting a couple of weeks in other parts of the world.  By that standard, we have just experienced three or four “droughts” during the wettest time of the year!

As any local SoCal knows, a normal rainfall year here has only about 15 inches of precipitation, and almost every drop falls in December through March.  We have an 8-month “drought” almost every single year.

As more folks moved to California, they built water systems to deal with this long-term, every-single-year drought.  Dams and reservoirs, aqueducts and canals, and water treatment and recycling plants are found throughout the Golden State.  In recent years, we have turned to the largest body of water in the known Universe, the Pacific Ocean, as the latest source of water to satisfy our needs.  While that may seem long overdue, there are many reasons why seawater desalination is not far more prevalent in California.  See:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-carlsbad-desalination-20130218,0,6345579.story

According to this article, many “have taken a pass on the Pacific.  Los Angeles and Long Beach recently shelved seawater desalting plans after concluding that other water sources … are cheaper and easier to pursue.”  We know many of the individual researchers who have worked on these projects.  They are accomplished scientists and engineers, and they are believers in seawater desalination.  If people of this caliber say the alternatives are “cheaper and easier to pursue,” you can take that to the bank.

The main topic of this article is that a private firm — as opposed to a taxpayer-funded public agency — is still pursuing seawater desalination in southern California.  Poseidon Resources (appropriately named, as Poseidon is the Greek god of the sea) continues to invest in a major project in Carlsbad.  Will this project be the one that makes seawater desalination a reliable and viable water resource for arid southern California?

UC Berkeley professor emeritus Henry Vaux, Jr. voices his skepticism in the article.  And “The reason boils down to money and energy.”  We would like to simplify that further: it boils down to the money for energy.

When energy costs go down, seawater desalination will increase.  Which is why we are troubled that many — including people in the water industry — are so opposed to fracking and other technologies that will greatly increase our nation’s energy supply, and thus reduce the cost.  And perhaps reduce the cost so much that — finally — seawater desalination becomes a reality.

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