Ultimate solution?

Desalination may finally be coming of age in a thirsty West. Take it with a grain of salt.

  • The Encina Power Station in Carlsbad, California, site of the proposed Carlsbad Desalination Project, which would turn saltwater from the Pacific Ocean into drinking water.

    J. Katarzyna Woronowicz
  • J. Katarzyna Woronowicz
  • The area where pipes would bring water from the Aqua Hedionda Lagoon into the proposed desalination plant.

    J. Katarzyna Woronowicz
  • Operating engineer Dan Marler drawing a glass of water from the pilot project

    J. Katarzyna Woronowicz
  • Filter for the reverse osmosis process.

    J. Katarzyna Woronowicz
  • Desalinated water fresh from the plant is pumped back into the lagoon.

    J. Katarzyna Woronowicz
  • San Dieguito River Park in Del Mar, California, part of Southern California Edison’s mitigation for environmental damage caused by its San Onofre nuclear plant.

    J. Katarzyna Woronowicz
  • Conner Everts at the jetty where ocean water is drawn into the Encina Power Plant for cooling. Warmer water is returned to the sea.

    J. Katarzyna Woronowicz
  • Carlsbad wouldn’t need a new desalination plant, and the hazards it brings to fisheries, if it would conserve water.

    J. Katarzyna Woronowicz
 

Page 5

"We know we are at a historic drought that is the result of climate change," said San Diego Coastkeeper director Bruce Reznick at one of the Poseidon hearings. "Why in God's name would we approve the most energy-dependent and energy-intensive project to create local water and exacerbate the very problems we are trying to fix?"

Such arguments were whisked aside by the Metropolitan Water District, however. The massive utility agreed to subsidize Poseidon's plant by $14 million annually because the water agencies using the desalinated water will forgo the use of an equivalent amount of imported water. In August, the full Coastal Commission followed suit, voting overwhelmingly to side with Poseidon on that issue and on the wetlands mitigation plan.

Afterward, Everts decided to go to work with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, promoting landscaping water conservation. He was drawn to that agency because this year it dropped desalination from its long-range plans in favor of conservation and wastewater recycling. Even after getting $1.5 million in state and federal grants to design a pilot desalination facility, the department decided a plant would be too energy-intensive, and would cost several million dollars more to build and have more complex environmental issues than expected, a department spokeswoman said.

"There is enough water to be saved out there, and when you save water, you're not only saving energy, you're cutting down on runoff," Everts says. "You're fulfilling multiple objectives, and you're getting multiple benefits. When you do desal, you are creating impacts and only creating high-cost water."

Still, some desalination plants have run into less resistance. For 10 years, the city of Long Beach has worked on its own pilot plant. Since 2005, it has run 300,000 gallons a day through the plant -- enough to supply a town of about 4,000 people. Because officials are regularly varying the water's quality for testing purposes, it is not used for drinking; it's simply routed back to sea.

Long Beach doesn't expect to operate a full-scale plant until about 2015, and it will produce no more than 10 million gallons a day. But the finished plant will run on a new technology, called dual-stage nanofiltration, that's drawn a lot of interest in the water world. In research slated to be published this fall, the department, working with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, concludes that its new technology -- known as "the Long Beach Way" -- is 20 to 30 percent more energy-efficient than reverse osmosis. That's because its membranes are looser and require less pressure to push the water through.

Five miles from the plant, city officials have just started testing another new technology: underground "beach wells." The wells are actually perforated pipes, poking 15 to 20 feet underground, designed to draw in seawater without killing fish. The system is modeled on a 13.2-million-gallon a day desalination plant in Fukuoka, Japan, whose wells lie 2,000 feet out at sea underneath 7 feet of sand and graded gravel.

"We believe that desal is the future, and there's no arguing the opposite," says Ryan Alsop, government and public affairs director for the Long Beach Water Department. "But right now, a number of major issues are hindering its development. We're taking the opportunity to build one of these things in a measured, transparent way, to position ourselves for building a larger one when the time is right."

Environmentalists joined the Coastal Commission staff in urging Poseidon to follow the Long Beach Way. But Poseidon refused, saying its tests found that it would need 200 beach wells over seven miles. That would have been economically infeasible and also might damage offshore kelp beds.

Heather Cooley of the Pacific Institute agrees. Beach wells are "very, very site specific," says Cooley, a senior researcher for the Oakland-based institute. "In terms of the very large, 50-million-gallons-a-day plants, beach wells are not likely an option."

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • EVENTS AND ANNUAL FUND COORDINATOR
    The Events and Annual Fund Coordinator is responsible for managing and coordinating the Henry's Fork Foundation's fundraising events for growing the membership base, renewing and...
  • EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Position Description: The Education Director is the primary leader of Colorado Canyons Association's (CCA) education programs for students and adults on the land and rivers...
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...