Billion Dollar Desalination Plants, the right answers to California’s Drought?


climate change, fresh water, desalination, California

There might be a solutions for the future. A desalination plant which is cost efficient and delivers health, cheap drinking water

Desalination of Pacific Ocean water may prove to be a cheaper solution for California. California is running out of water. Since 2010 progressive drought is rendering the Central Valley, into a desert.

The San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers are drying up as is the aquifer beneath them. The Colorado River basin no longer meets the freshwater demands of both landowners and city dwellers in the U.S. Southwest.

Apply technology to the problem and a billion dollars and you get the largest desalination plant under construction in North America which will produce 204 million liters (54 million gallons) of fresh drinking water daily using reverse osmosis – a reliable but old and energy intensive commercial desalination technology.

With 80% of California experiencing extreme drought desalination is a preferred solution over massive depopulation of the state. But the $1 billion USD cost is just the down payment.

The annual energy bill to desalinate the water going through this one facility is $30 million.


Reverse osmosis requires a ton of energy as well as disproportionately large amounts of seawater to make the end product, in fact, almost twice the amount of freshwater output. And there are negative consequences to sea life near desalination plants. The highly concentrated salty residue has to go somewhere and that’s usually back into the ocean.


  • We recently wrote about a low-temperature Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) system in combination with . This system reduces the .
  • Another option is shock electrodialysis, a water purification method that can remove salt and in combination with a porous glass membrane produces fresh, drinkable water. Shock electrodialysis requires much less energy and much less water to produce that liter of freshwater from saltwater.
  • And there is this promising desalination technology uses thin-film one-atom thick graphene membranes to convert salt to freshwater. Such membranes would require far less energy.

Lessons learned from Israel

In the period 2009 – 2010, Israel was suffering with drought. These measures made sure people can live a normal life in a country that is half desert.

  • Across the country, Israelis were told to cut their shower time by two minutes
  • Washing cars with hoses was outlawed
  • Those few wealthy enough to absorb the cost of maintaining a lawn were permitted to water it only at night

“We were in a situation where we were very, very close to someone opening a tap somewhere in the country and no water would come out,” said Uri Schor, the spokesman and public-education director of the government’s Water Authority.

That was about six years ago. Today, there is plenty of water in Israel. “The fear has gone,” said Zvieli, whose customers have gone back to planting flowers.

Desalination and recycle wastewater

A revolution has taken place in Israel. A major national effort to desalinate Mediterranean seawater and to recycle wastewater has provided the country with enough water for all its needs, even during severe droughts. More than 50 percent of the water for Israeli households, agriculture and industry is now artificially produced.

During the drought years, farmers at Ramat Rachel, a kibbutz on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem, took water-economizing measures such as uprooting old apple orchards a few years before their time. With the new plenty, water allocations for Israeli farmers that had been slashed have been raised again, though the price has also gone up.

“Now there is no problem of water,” said Shaul Ben-Dov, an agronomist at Ramat Rachel. “The price is higher, but we can live a normal life in a country that is half desert.”

Let’s hope for more rain, like it’s now raining over here in San Francisco.


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