California will fight the drought by turning sea water into drinking water

May 29, 2015

By Dan Arel

Californians are about to get their water from a new source – the Pacific Ocean, as Governor Jerry Brown’s new plan to save the state is set to launch next year. The governor passed mandatory water conservation restrictions this past April in a massive effort to cut water usage, but critics have warned that mere conservation will not be enough to save the state’s severe water shortage.

California is experiencing the worst drought in its history, and according Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the state only has about one year of water left in storage. “As our ‘wet’ season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions,” he wrote in op-ed earlier this year for The Los Angeles Times. “January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.”

So the governor is kicking his new plan into action. With several ocean desalination plants already up and running in a handful of towns around the state, a new and much larger plant is now underway. The new plant in Huntington Beach would supply water to the heavily populated Orange County region.

The Huntington Beach plant would be the biggest in the western hemisphere and would produce 189 million litres (50 million gallons) of drinking water a year. The downside is that in for every 2 litres of water that go in, only 1 will come out, and the leftover super-salty brine would mix in with the city’s wastewater before being piped back out to sea to spread around, about 50 km offshore. And this salty brine, along with financial concerns, have environmentalists questioning the governor’s plan.


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26 comments on “California will fight the drought by turning sea water into drinking water

  • “The biggest concern about desalination is that it is expensive, it’s energy-intensive and it has a lot of side effects – a lot of unintended consequences to marine life both from the intake and the discharge,” (From Article).

    Since 1950 the population of California has quadrupled from 10 million to about 40 million. In times of crisis we humans turn to piecemeal schemes and crank projects never coordinated to a address the magnitude or scale of the problem. Desalinization is an expensive boondoggle with small output. Assuming that the average person drinks about a quart a day, 50 million gallons of desalinated drinking water would slake the thirst of Californians for about a week. Residential water use accounts for about only 8% of water consumption. Agriculture takes the lion’s share. Still our water districts are offering rebate incentives, X dollars per square food for removal of sod lawns to be replaced by gravel-over-dirt in front of suburban homes. To give a sense of perspective, almond orchards put out a staple crop in California, supplying the entire nation and huge export demand. It takes A GALLON OF WATER to grow ONE ALMOND.
    50 million gallons per year will produce 50 million almonds per year or 1.3 almonds (roasted and salted) per year per resident minus exports.



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  • They will end up using fossil fuels to power the desalinatisation. That will release more CO2. That will make the drought worse. The cost will have to be added to California produce. That means people will cut down their consumption of it. This not a pleasant solution. I think they should be pushing conservation and recycling to the limit.



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  • Roedy
    May 29, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    They will end up using fossil fuels to power the desalinatisation.

    Desalination is a power hungry process, but California is progressing steadily with renewables – even if the drought has hit their hydroelectric schemes.

    http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/states/renewable_energy.cfm/state=CA
    The graphs and charts below feature electricity production statistics for the following renewable energy resources in California: (see link)

    http://www.caiso.com/green/renewableswatch.html
    The daily Renewables Watch provides important information about actual renewable production within the ISO grid as California moves towards a 33 percent renewable generation portfolio.



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  • From what you say, it seems that the plant would be just a big fat waste of money and resources: its output would be ridiculously small.



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  • The only real solution is a reduction in population, but that’s not going to happen. Though Immigration may slow down when water costs as much as gasoline.
    Yet all the while, Nestle is still pumping out ground water to bottle in plastic to sell back to Californians.



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  • America’s most prolific author and (in my opinion ) best sci-fi author Isaac Asimov (who warned us all about climate change as early as the Seventies) was so right when he said that we humans always wait for catastrophes to occur.—Then we apply our ingenuity and make prodigious attempts to control or repair the damage – with varying degrees of success, depending on the damage. But we never (or hardly ever) apply our ingenuity before in order to prevent catastrophes from happening in the first place. I’d like to see us reverse this pattern. But there are entrenched interests that make that rather difficult.



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  • a year of fresh water left

    There’s a saying I like, “they didn’t think things through“.

    Steps should have been taken at the first sign of trouble. I.e., homeowners are now spray-painting lawns green, releasing chemicals (just what we need). Rocks, pebble, and native flora landscaping is eco-friendly.

    people deserve fresh water – mandatory restrictions

    The abatement of washing driveways / swimming pools / watering of golf courses long ago might of helped ensure the availability of current drinking water for all. I think with these instances, wealthy folk used $$ to circumvent.

    (edit: @ Dan, oops, didn’t see your wise comment first, I was typing.)



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  • Beginning to use wave power in Western Australia to drive the desalination and generate electricity. The underwater buoys float up and down beneath the waves pumping water through the filters and or running generators to produce power. I wonder how many families have rain water tanks fitted. When I was a child my father tells me Brisbane City council demanded all the cities rain water tanks be destroyed, the council went around punching holes in any still intact in the Brisbane suburbs. Damns had been put in to supply treated water and the rainwater tanks were considered a health risk due to mosquito borne diseases (they may have had a point). I can tell you that there are a great many rainwater tanks in the region now. One good downpour and our small one 5000l is full. Funny how water shortages make you look at the drains dumping perfectly good fresh water into storm water drains in a very different way. Let’s hope this wakes some people up to the fact that AGW is real and needs to be acted on. I suspect the hip pocket will eventually do the trick when all calls for rational reason and science have failed.



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  • Funny how water shortages make you look at the drains dumping perfectly good fresh water into storm water drains in a very different way.

    You could have watched my lips move as I read this comment. I join the Monkey and so many Aussies and Californians in calling for the construction of more catch basins and rainwater tanks to capture runoff.
    Excellent.



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  • Fifty million gallons per year isn’t enough to mention. I suspect they meant 50 million gallons per DAY, which is the rated capacity of the Carlsbad desal plant http://www.mercurynews.com/science/ci_25859513/nations-largest-ocean-desalination-plant-goes-up-near .

    As several posters have noted, building enough desal plants to make a serious dent in California’s drought would require a massive effort. Probably the biggest saline water conversion facilities in the world are the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) plants in Saudi Arabia, which enjoy practically free natural gas http://www.swcc.gov.sa/default.asp?pid=96#e2 The US doesn’t have that luxury. We could, of course, (ahem) build nukes.



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  • No fossil fuel to power plants is the best starting place , some will work some will work better . Don’t wait for Big Oil to help us with our decision.



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  • Robert
    May 30, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    We could, of course, (ahem) build nukes.

    We should have built thorium nukes decades ago, but war-mongers demanded uranium for bombs!

    After all! What use are thorium nuclear generators? – they offer no excitement!! – they can’t be used for terrorism, they can’t be used to make bombs, they have no military applications, and the plants can’t explode! (Sarcasm)

    http://www.itheo.org/thorium-energy-conference-2012



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  • It is much more efficient to use the same technology to filter wastewater, even sewage, than sea water. The inefficiency of desalination is that salt is the hardest thing to separate from water. The problem is that people can’t wrap their heads around the idea that once filtered the source is irrelevant. All dam water is dirty runoff from the surrounding land including faecal matter, bacteria etc. Sea water is worse. The win-win is if you capture and use the methane in sewage you can power the filtration. Ask Bill Gates about it.



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  • No. The output would be helpful we need this plant and more. Letting all the almond trees die would basically make them impossible to reestablish, or at least hard to do for another five years or so, you can’t just stop watering the trees and have them live. There’s basically no alternative. We’re talking about California having no water at all.

    We basically told the farmers that they should grow almonds, because we could and they were wildly successful, letting them die basically guts their investment.

    And any way you shake it, we’re basically out of water. One of the largest state growers of produce suffer, agriculture would basically collapse. Sure, we won’t die of dehydration any time soon. But, losing one of our primary industries would basically destroy us financially.

    We need to invest in desalination. Even our typical water levels won’t suffice. The ocean is giant, the technology is there. The water it makes costs like twice what it costs to get it through other means (but is always available). And we’d need something like 760 of the really large billion dollar plants like this to completely replace our water supplies. So basically drought proofing california. It would run about a third our yearly GDP (2.2 trillion dollar). And letting those industries die would cost way way more than that.

    The almond industry alone makes $2.83 billion in foreign exports. And we’re ignoring all the advancements and scaling factors with investing a trillion dollars. There’s plenty of ways to drive down costs. And with solar dropping the price of peak electricity and going to get progressively more pronounced, even our power intensive processes would be better.

    Yeah, it’s a lot of money for a little bit of water. But, we don’t have any water and this will work for the foreseeable future. So make enough of these plants to get us by as quick as we can, so we don’t collapse in the near future. I’d suppose that if the shockwaves of even a large bank collapsing can basically gut the economy that the collapse of California would cause some kind of ripples.

    Also, yeah an almond uses 1 gallon of water. But, walnuts use 5. Crops use a lot of water. It’s what they do. So no, allowing California’s economy to collapse will not be cheaper than saving it for a hefty, but doable sum.



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  • Since 1950 the population of California has quadrupled from 10 million to about 40 million.

    This is the problem. Not the water supply. Every environmental problem on the planet can be traced directly, or indirectly to over population.

    I live in the driest state on the driest continent on earth. Same climate as California. We have just recovered from a one in 100 year drought. We suffer from the fluctuations caused by the El Ninio Pacific system that also affects the west of North and South America. We’re about to go back into drought.

    Some of the measures implemented to minimize water usage included the conversion of all open channel irrigation to closed pipes at Govt expense. Huge saving of commercial agricultural water. A ban on aerial sprinklers in agriculture. All agriculture is drip irrigation. All new houses must have a least 1 rainwater tank plumbed into a toilet or laundry in the house. I’ve install 30,000 litres of rainwater storage and run my entire house on rain water 7 months of the year. No watering of lawns except I can water my lawn because of my rainwater capture. No washing of cars on cement or roads. Must be on lawns or in approved car wash facilities that recycle and filter all water. Dual flush toilets have been mandated for 20 years. Storm water is collected from suburban streets and moved onto golf courses and open parks. It is filtered through reed bed swamps (wonderful bird habitats right in the middle of the city) then pumped down into the aquifers then used to water the golf courses and parks. Pipe lines for grey treated sewerage water are diverted back in land from sea outflow and water a large proportion of our cities parklands. All water reservoirs are connected on a grid to share the load. A De Sal plant has been built, but has never been used, because the drought broke. But Australia is a land of droughts that can last 10 years and El Ninio has turned. So back to drought we go.

    Send some people down from California to pick up some tips from us convicts.



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  • you can’t just stop watering the trees and have them live. There’s basically no alternative.

    We did in Australia. Huge acreages of fruit and almond trees bulldozed. No water. And the water that was available, was subject to market forces and was too expensive for this type of agriculture. Trees have been replaced with market gardens and glass house operations. Move the the almond trees to a location that can support them.

    This is what California should be doing. In Australia’s outback desert, a company has coupled the abundant sunshine through solar power which desalinates sea water and drives a hugely productive greenhouse vegetable growing industry.

    http://www.sundropfarms.com/overview/

    Watch the video. The way of the future.



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  • I forgot one more thing. I use a low salt laundry detergent that can be safely pumped directly onto the garden or lawn. Install some pipe and a hose connection. The washing machine pump does the rest. One wash and two rinses is a lot of water that would normal just go down the sewer.



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  • Another thing worth mentioning: the production of meat costs vastly more water than the production of vegetables. It may be worth the government pursuing a ‘meat free Monday’ campaign or similar. Obviously this would have to be one item in an group of policies.



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  • I saw that a few weeks back. They don’t need all those processes on the same site. You can do solar whereever without the rest. You can do the desalination where ever. And you can do the greenhouse farm where ever. Given the commoditization of power and water, you don’t need those as singular units (you can do those anywhere, save where supply is way higher than typical) and get the same net result.. And California is way better as farmland than the outback. And we’d basically be doing that. We’re great for solar and for desalination, build a lot of both and the given our climate we wouldn’t need green-house food.



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  • Dan, oops, […]

    I appreciate that very much, Bonnie! Sometimes I feel invisible on this site. (Maybe I have a chip on my shoulder; in any case, thanks!)



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  • I realize that people generally would rather suffer a human bottleneck due the inability to grow crops in the future climate, than adopt LENR since they are convinced (irrationally) that it is pathological science. There is no other way to desalinate the quantity of water necessary, nor remove the excess carbon from the air and water. BTW, I have limited space and time, so this is just a taste of what I am pointing to:

    “LENR has the demonstrated ability to produce excess amounts of energy, cleanly, without hazardous ionizing radiation, without producing nasty waste.” – Dennis Bushnell, Chief Scientist at NASA Langley Research Center

    “Total replacement of fossil fuels for everything but synthetic organic chemistry.” –Dr. Joseph M. Zawodny, NASA

    As an example of practical LENR technology (which is being impeded by ossified scientists and selfish politicians that are afraid of a highly destabilizing energy technology emerging):

    http://www.opednews.com/articles/Low-Energy-Nuclear-Reactio-by-Christopher-Calder-Andrea-Rossi_Energy-Policy_Industrial-Heat-Llc_Lenr-141013-530.html

    “There are many companies now racing to bring Low Energy Nuclear Reaction products to the marketplace. One notable company is Solar Hydrogen Trends, which claims to have accidentally discovered a way to use LENR to produce hydrogen gas from water at the energy equivalent of producing pollution free oil for about $5.00 a barrel. Their hydrogen gas producing reactor has been independently tested by two well known companies, AirKinetics, Inc. and TRC Solutions. Both companies found that the reactor works as promised, and the TRC Solutions PDF report is quite shocking.”

    To summarize, 5 orders of magnitude more energy dense as gasoline, no radiation or radioactive waster (i.e. clean), and super abundant since the fuel is hydrogen or other common materials like nickel.

    Here is a dumbed down primer:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjvL4zNLOGw&feature=youtu.be



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  • AirKinetics, Inc. and TRC Solutions. Did not use their own meters, also, they only tested 2 things.

    1 How much electricity went in.
    2 What volume of what gasses came out of the pipe.

    They are not scientists.



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  • Brad
    May 31, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_fusion
    Many scientists tried to replicate the experiment with the few details available. Hopes fell with the large number of negative replications, the withdrawal of many positive replications, the discovery of flaws and sources of experimental error in the original experiment, and finally the discovery that Fleischmann and Pons had not actually detected nuclear reaction byproducts.[5] By late 1989, most scientists considered cold fusion claims dead,[6][7] and cold fusion subsequently gained a reputation as pathological science.

    A second DOE review, convened in 2004 to look at new research, reached conclusions similar to the first.

    Since cold fusion articles are rarely published in peer-reviewed mainstream scientific journals, they do not attract the level of scrutiny expected for science.

    It looks like flawed and debunked nonsense!



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  • The problem is it’s always been known that California has a serious water issue. The entire South Western USA has a serious water issue. The drought only hastened the issue.

    When those almond trees were planted it was well known that California was eventually going to run out of water. Population was increasing faster than the water supply. Farms were increasing faster than the water supply. Those trees and other high water usage crops were always a poor fit. The businessmen who chose to plant them made a choice, they would make money and hope that in the future the water problem would be solved. They gambled and they lost.

    I’m 50 years old, and when I was a child I heard warnings that California was going to have severe water problems. I live on Vancouver Island in Canada where we have similar water issues. Luckily for us the local water boards have been proactive. Water restrictions come into effect automatically when water levels are abnormally low. Leaks are found and fixed. Water is priced on an escalating usage scale. Capacity has been increased. And again, at the first sign of problems, restrictions are put in place. They don’t wait until the area is about to die of thirst.
    I find it hard to believe that the people who live in California who based their lively hood on the availability of water did not understand the gamble they were taking.
    The reality is all Californians are subsidizing almond growers with heavily subsidized water. If the farmers were paying what the water is worth, they would have no choice but to bulldoze those trees. The only reason they have not is because California’s politicians have been grossly negligent in protecting California’s water supply.

    California should have enacted water restrictions the first year. They should have enacted state wide measure to lessen water use decades ago. They should have been figuring out ways of incentivizing farmers away from using water heavy crops long ago. Because this problem was always coming.

    If water was costing what it was worth, farmers would have been incentivized to plant water efficient crops, or discover methods of using the water they have more efficiently. Such as delivering water directly to the roots using drip irrigation, rather than spraying water on the surface were most of it evaporates. But with water subsidized by the rest of California, they had little reason.

    Water restrictions are not enough.
    Even if there wasn’t a drought there is only a limited number of choices.
    Truck or pipe in water from outside sources. Where from? Canada? When California’s lakes run dry they won’t be able to truck in enough water. If Canada sells water we will be legally obligated (under NAFTA) to continue selling water in perpetuity, even if we have our own drought. Canada doesn’t want to risk losing it’s water supply to California. Besides, California needs a self sustaining solution. I have no problem supplying water on an emergency basis, although I’m not sure if we can under NAFTA.

    Desalinization plants. One of the few options California has. It’s environmental and monetary costs need to be weighed against other options, not just on itself.

    Water reclamation/treatment plants. Already being done, but needs to be expanded.
    Increased water costs will make such more economical. Increased water costs are inevitable.

    More reservoirs for when the drought ends. These won’t help anyone now and may not help for years. Droughts have lasted decades in the past.

    Do nothing and let nature take its course. Those with the most money will be able to buy water. This appears to be the House Republican solution. They have passed a bill to over ride water restrictions to “to homes, farms and businesses in California’s Central Valley”
    They seem to believe the water will just appear. Perhaps they are praying for more water. It worked for Texas, it just took about four or five years between the prayer and the flood.

    It’s really a shame the problem was allowed to get as bad as it is.

    If those farmers want to continue, they need to find a way to reduce water usage, or pay the bill.



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