Desal’s California Stumbles

Desalination of seawater along the coasts is the west’s water supply backstop, the reason we won’t in the worst case scenarios abandon southwestern cities. The water is very expensive as compared to the current system of dams, canals, pipes and pumps, but it’s cheaper that bailing out of the region entirely.

So what does this LA Times story about desal’s California troubles suggest?

[D]esalination has been lagging in California, where water woes are especially dire, industry and government officials say. They blame the slow progress on a disorganized local industry, litigious environmentalists and a thorny approvals process.

I would humbly offer a simpler suggestion: that we haven’t reached the pain point yet, at which desal suddenly looks more appealing than increasingly dire alternatives.


  1. meh. Water providers have discovered that cleaning and recharging sewage can be done at a fraction of the cost of desal. And as someone who used to make a pretty decent living at threading the regulatory process, I can say with some confidence that the developers are frequently their own best enemies. And power costs remain stubbornly high despite years of promises about new reliable membranes that will — this time — really reduce substantially the amount of power needed to generate clean water. And while water does flow toward money, gravity still plays a role. So getting the clean water from sea level uphill into the existing water infrastructure adds a pretty penny to the total project cost.

  2. I think it’s a mix of the following:
    1) You are right, the pain is not that severe yet.
    2) Permitting process is haphazard and irregular.
    3) Too many cooks! Make a list of all the coastal water agencies in CA, and you can see why nothing gets done because of quibbling!
    4) As for the Posiedon project, there is an inherent dislike for ‘private’ entities working in ‘public’ arena, i.e. water. (Note, this does not apply to bottled water.)

    Nice topic. Let’s keep talking, may be we can bring about some action.


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