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California approves $140 million desalination plant to tackle drought

  • California approves $140 million desalination plant to tackle drought
    Credit: Jimspec/WikiCommons/CCBY3.0

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California regulators on Thursday unanimously approved a desalination facility worth US$140 million, reports Reuters. The state is currently facing the worst drought in 1,200 years and the desalination plant would offer a guideline for how California can make saline water into freshwater.

Only five months ago, the California Coastal Commission had rejected a project by the private company Poseidon Water to develop a larger desalination plant in Huntington Beach. The reason it was unanimously rejected was environmental concerns. Nevertheless, the South Coast Water District's proposed Doheny Ocean Desalination Project, which is one-tenth the size, was approved by the same 11-0 vote.  

The proposed desalination project will serve a small water utility in Orange County, located south of Los Angeles. It is expected to produce 5 million gallons of drinking water per day, serving approximately 40,000 people.

The Doheny Ocean Desalination Project is the first desalination plant approved by the Coastal Commission since more strict regulations were adopted in 2019.

Newsha Ajami, a researcher at Berkeley Lab's Earth & Environmental Sciences Area, said: "It's more nimble. The future is going to be all about modular solutions."

The South Coast Water District currently relies on water pumped from hundreds of kilometers away, passing through the State Water Project or the Colorado River. With the inauguration of this desalination project, the district would have its own water supply.

Reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin have reached their lowest levels on record after 22 consecutive years of drought made worse by climate change.

This week, the Interior Department announced it would use a part of the $4 billion in drought mitigation funding from the Inflation Reduction Act to pay farmers, cities and Indigenous tribes for drawing less water from the drought-stricken Colorado River.

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