California Regulators Approve $140 million Desalination Plant

Nov. 8, 2022
The plant is expected to produce 5 million gallons of drinking water per day, enough for about 40,000 people, and will serve a small water utility in Orange County.

The California Coastal Commission has unanimously approved a $140 million desalination plant, which is anticipated to produce 5 million gallons of drinking water per day. 

That's enough water for approximately 40,000 people, Reuters reported. The plant, named the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project, will serve a small water utility in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles.

This approval addresses guidelines for how the state can convert ocean water into drinking water during the worst drought in 1,200 years. While the project still requires other state permits, Reuters said that the Coastal Commission was considered the most challenging regulatory hurdle. 

This approval sets precedent as the first desalination that the Coastal Commission has approved since more strict regulations were adopted in 2019, Reuters said

"We're watching what's happening at the Colorado River, and it's not good," said Rick Shintaku, general manager of the South Coast Water District to Reuters. "Desalination could be part of that solution for water reliability for a broad region."

This new plant will allow the South Coast Water District to have its own water supply instead of relying on water that is pumped from hundreds of miles away, via the the State Water Project or the Colorado River. 

According to Reuters, the plant will utilize a sub-surface intake that creates a barely perceptible current. This was an issue brought up by opponents of Poseidon Water, a project that was ultimately rejected. Opponents of that plant raised concerns about the impact of marine life and the amount of energy required to pump ocean water through the plant's reverse osmosis filters.

But, in the case of Doheny, the Coastal Commission found that the proposal minimized harmful impacts. 

Additionally, at Doheny, "the brine that results from desalination will be mingled with the discharge of a neighboring wastewater treatment plant, mitigating the harmful effects of having two diffusers pumping effluent into the sea," Reuters reported. 

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Katie Johns