Connecting Waterpeople

California invests in desalination projects and research to help diversify local water supplies

  • California invests in desalination projects and research to help diversify local water supplies
    Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant in Santa Barbara, California, plays a key role in improving water reliability and resiliency for the City during the drought years. Credit: California Department of Water Resources

About the entity

California Department of Water Resources
Established in 1956 by the California State Legislature, DWR protects, conserves, develops, and manages much of California's water supply. This includes the State Water Project (SWP), the nation’s largest state-built water conveyance program.

With California adapting to intense shifts between extreme wet and dry weather, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced three projects that will receive support from DWR’s Water Desalination Grant Program, and an additional six projects that will receive funds through a partnership with the National Alliance for Water Innovation to advance desalination implementation and research.

As a key strategy in the Governor’s California’s Water Supply Strategy, Adapting to a Hotter, Drier Future, desalination is the process of removing salts and minerals from brackish water and seawater to produce water suitable for consumption, irrigation and other supply needs. Today’s awarded projects directly support the State’s investment in desalination technology to help diversify local water supplies.

“California faces a range of water supply challenges, and climate change continues to intensify shifts between weather extremes as we’ve seen this season,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “The State is exploring all opportunities to invest in innovative strategies like desalination to meet our growing water needs -- including treating brackish water and ocean water where it’s environmentally appropriate on our 840 miles of coastline.”

Water Desalination Grant Program:

Funded by Proposition 1, the Water Desalination Grant Program supports construction and design of pilot projects that desalinate naturally occurring brackish and ocean water for potable water supply. The program will award $5 million to three projects in Mendocino, Fresno and Los Angeles counties.

The projects that will receive funding include:

  • Water Replenishment District of Southern California Construction Project: In Los Angeles County, a project in the City of Torrance will construct a conveyance pipeline to connect an existing well to the existing Goldsworthy Desalter system and install a self-cleaning auto-strainer. The project will reduce the community’s reliance on imported water, provide a sustainable local potable water supply, and increase desalinated water production by 1,120-acre feet per year or approximately enough water for 2,200 households.
  • Westlands Water District Design Pilot Project: In Fresno County, the project will desalinate brackish groundwater from the westside upper aquifer and use salt-tolerant plants to remove salts from the brine. The project will provide cost-effective, reliable and high-quality water to the district and the communities of Coalinga, Huron and Avenal.
  • City of Fort Bragg Design Pilot Project: Near the City of Fort Bragg, the project will install an innovative, wave-powered, seawater desalination iceberg buoy to provide potable water to residents. The project will diversify the city’s water supply portfolio, create a locally controlled, sustainable, and carbon-free potable water supply, produce water without grid electricity, and strengthen water resiliency during future droughts.

To date, DWR has awarded over $82 million in Proposition 1 desalination grants ranging from over $100,000 to $10 million to support 20 projects. Three projects are currently under construction including the Antioch Brackish Water Desalination project, the City of Camarillo North Pleasant Valley Desalter project, and the City of Santa Monica Brackish Desalter Production Efficiency Enhancement project. Two of the projects will contribute towards the Governor’s goal to expand brackish groundwater desalination production by 28,000 acre-feet per year by 2030.

Additionally, three previously funded Water Desalination Grant Program projects have completed construction and are now in operation in the City of Torrance, which was previously funded by Proposition 50, the City of Santa Barbara, and the City of Avalon on Catalina Island. Together, the completed projects produce 8,787 acre-feet of potable water per year serving approximately 18,000 households.

The state has also convened the Desalination Interagency Group, comprised of representatives from partner agencies including the State Water Board, Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission, Department of Fish and Wildlife, DWR, and others to develop siting criteria to streamline permitting of seawater desalination facilities. The Desalination Interagency Group has identified criteria for siting seawater desalination facilities to facilitate approval under the existing desalination requirements, as well as recommendations for potential changes to the requirements to further streamline permitting. The Criteria for Siting Seawater Desalination Facilities to Streamline and Expedite Permitting document is expected to be completed and released by June 30, 2023.

Collaboration with the National Alliance for Water Innovation:

In addition to providing support through the Water Desalination Grant program, DWR is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI) to support six projects that will pilot breakthrough technologies to reduce energy demand and costs for desalination projects. These six projects will receive cost share funding from DWR.

The selected pilot projects will treat water from a range of locations to produce a potable water supply. Some of the selected projects will directly partner with and benefit underserved communities and groups. The full list of projects can be viewed here.

“California’s water supplies are climate-vulnerable and it is urgent that we build resilience with tools such as desalination and water reuse. The selected pilot projects will help to augment California’s water supplies with non-traditional water sources such as brackish (or salty) water and wastewater,” said NAWI Executive Director Peter Fiske. “With the California Department of Water Resources as a partner, the NAWI pilot program will align national and international research questions with real people and real places — including producing water for those communities most in need.”

DWR previously contributed $16 million to NAWI in support of advancing desalination research in 2021. Led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, NAWI represents the largest federal investment in water treatment, desalination and water reuse since the 1960s. Together with its partners, the NAWI Alliance is converting unconventional water sources into secure, desalinated water supplies at a cost equivalent to other available water sources. NAWI-supported research and development will also improve brine management, increase longevity of system components and develop methods to optimize operational efficiency.

In addition to energy efficiency, NAWI is seeking to address other key water supply issues impacting California -- including brine management, low-cost, independent treatment unit development and oil field (produced) water treatment.

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