California's third desalination plant
Desalination Americas Water storage

One in, one out as California opens third desalination plant

Monday, 15 August 2022

California’s Eastern Municipal Water District opened its third groundwater desalination facility just one month after the state rejected plans for a new $1.4 billion plant.
With California facing serve drought conditions how important is this new plant and why was another one rejected? Aquatech Online takes a look.

One in

California’s Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) has opened its third groundwater desalination facility, which will provide additional local water supply reliability to its service area.

Called the Perris II Desalination Facility, EMWD’s new groundwater desalter will deliver enough water for over 15,000 households a year through its reverse osmosis (RO) treatment process.

Located in Menifee, it is positioned next to the Menifee I and Perris I desalination plants.

The new plant with treat roughly 5.4 million gallons of water per day with the EMWD’s groundwater desalination programme collectively treating approximately 14 million gallons per day.

The programme will remove 65,000 tons of salt each year from the groundwater basin, helping to provide long-term improvements to water quality in the basin.

“The new plant with treat roughly 5.4 million gallons of water per day.”

Funded partly in grants equaling $22.5 million for the State Water Resources Control Board as part of Proposition 1 - a 2014 water bond approved by voters.

"This facility and other projects funded by Prop 1 — together with Governor Newsom’s historic, three-year, $5.2 billion investment in California water systems enacted last year, and the billions in funding coming from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — provide us with a generational opportunity to transform our state’s water system to meet the 21st-century challenges of a changing climate,” said Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board.

Funding also came from the United States Army Corps of Engineers which provided $10.8 million in support.

Speaking of the opening of the new plant, EMWD board president Phill Paule, said: "As we continue to face water supply challenges throughout California, this facility will further ensure that our area is prepared to meet the needs of our customers through investments in local water supply sources.”

But if California is facing such a big challenge, why has it rejected plans to build another desalination plant?

One out

California's regulators recently rejected a $1.4 billion desalination plant which was part of the Governor's plans to tackle the State’s drought challenge.

The California Coastal Commission voted 11-0 to reject the proposal by the seawater desalination developer, Poseidon Water, to build a new desalination plant on a low-lying coastal site at Huntington Beach.

“The plant was set to have a capacity of 50 million gallons (189.3 million litres) of drinking water a day.”

Plans were rejected on environmental concerns after experts said the facility would destroy marine life in about 100 billion gallons of seawater per year.

The project, which was in development for 20 years and saw $100 million in terms of investment was set to have a capacity of 50 million gallons (189.3 million litres) of drinking water a day.

While enough to supply 400,000 people, the commission said the plant would devastate marine life and expose the plant to future risk of sea level rise while producing costly water too expensive for low-income consumers.

Supporting desalination in the future

While plans for a new plant at Huntington Beach were unanimously rejected, the commission did release a statement saying it would be willing to support other desalination projects.

"We have a dire need for more water, but we have to do it the right way," said commissioner Effie Turnbull-Sanders, one of Newsom's, a democrat candidate, four political appointees on the commission.

So while this project might have been called off in the 11th hour, California is not writing desalination off altogether, with the commission approving 11 plants since 2015.

But is desalination the only option for a state plagued by seemingly never-ending drought?

Desalination provides a reliable source of large quantities of potable water but has been criticised for its environmental impact and intensive energy drain.

One way it might be able to convince the environmental concerns could be switching to building 100 per cent renewable powered plants, as recently proposed in the floating city of NEOM that plans to use green hydrogen.

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