Capillaries and the cost of desal

Pulled up from the comments on yesterday’s Cadiz post, the Aquafornia Maven shares a marvelous metaphor regarding the costs of coastal desal:

I was on a tour through the Lower Colorado River last week, and we stopped at the Gene Pumping Plant and were being briefed on SoCal water issues. Some one asked Bill Hasencamp (MWD’s Colorado River guy) about desal.

Hasencamp said that besides the problems with getting desal plants permitted along the coast which is proving very difficult and several (at least) would be needed, Met’s system delivers by gravity to the service area, with the pipes getting progressively smaller as they deliver water to the inland areas and approach the coast. To input a large amount of desalinated water from the coastal areas would be akin to getting an entire blood transfusion through your little toe.

Interesting analogy.


  1. Thinking about the infrastructure issue – when it comes to using desal in Southern California, this never comes up – but consider this:

    To get the desalinated water into Met’s system, it would have to be delivered to the water treatment plants. There’s the plant in Sylmar which treats SWP water from the west branch, and the plant in Laverne which treats water from the east branch, as well as Colorado River Aqueduct water. If we are going to assume that desalination is to replace SWP or Delta water, than these are the plants the water needs to get to, to be treated and put into Met’s system (without completely redesigning the delivery system).

    So you’d have to tunnel from the desal plant on the coast to Sylmar – you’re either going under the Santa Monica Mountains or you’re going under the San Fernando Valley and other Metro areas. Looking at the map and knowing what the coastline looks like (wall to wall expensive homes broken up sporadically by public beaches), I don’t see where you could locate a plant that would be publicly acceptable, but let’s just say somehow we could insert a desal plant north of Santa Monica somewhere, it’d be 20 miles to tunnel to Sylmar. It looks to be 40 miles out to Laverne, all under heavy populated areas. How expensive would that be? I’m guessing way more than a peripheral canal/tunnel, and we’ve not even considered the cost of the desal plant itself.

    The Delta is a bargain, compared to that – if you’re going to say desal replaces SWP/Delta water.

    (My personal opinion is that Southern California would have plenty of water with the water it has right now if we’d all just give up our lawns.)

  2. People talk about the infrastructure challenges and costs. Nobody talks about the very real, practical issue of what to do with the salt. Whose lands and seas get it? What unfortunate, politically powerless state gets voted in as a recipient of a Dead Zone? Ask these questions loud enough, and it might start to upset the herd. Makes me thirsty just thinking about it.

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