Desalination no panacea for Calif. water woes

Associated Press
In this photo taken Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012,  city engineer Richard Simonitch looks over rows of membranes that filter water at a desalination plant in Sand City, Calif.  Not long ago, the idea of squeezing salt from the ocean to make clean drinking water was embraced warmly in thirsty California with its cycles of drought and growing population. But it has not panned out the way many hoped. Desalination plants are costing more to build; they're huge energy suckers and lingering concerns about the impact to marine life have spurred myriad lawsuits. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
.

View gallery

MARINA, Calif. (AP) — In the Central California coastal town of Marina, a $7 million desalination plant that can turn salty ocean waves into fresh drinking water sits idle behind rusty, locked doors, shuttered by water officials because rising energy costs made the plant too expensive.

Far to the north in well-heeled Marin County, plans were scrapped for a desalination facility despite two decades of planning and millions of dollars spent on a pilot plant.

Squeezing salt from the ocean to make clean drinking water is a worldwide phenomenon that has been embraced in thirsty California, with its cycles of drought and growing population. There are currently 17 desalination proposals in the state, concentrated along the Pacific where people are plentiful and fresh water is not.

But many projects have been stymied by skyrocketing construction costs, huge energy requirements for running plants, regulatory delays and legal challenges over environmental impacts on marine life. Only one small plant along Monterey Bay is pumping out any drinking water.

From Marin County to San Diego, some water districts are asking themselves: How much are we willing to pay for this new water?

"We found that our demand for water had dropped so much since the time we started exploring desalination, we didn't need the water," said Libby Pischel, a spokeswoman for the Marin Municipal Water District. "Right now, conservation costs less than desalination."

Desalination plants can take water from the ocean or drill down and grab the less salty, brackish water from seaside aquifers. Because of their potential impacts to marine life, the California Coastal Commission reviews each project case-by-case.

There was great fanfare in 2009 when the last regulatory hurdle was cleared to build the Western Hemisphere's largest desalination plant in Carlsbad, north of San Diego.

At the time, it was proposed that the $320 million project would suck in 100 million gallons of seawater and be capable of producing 50 million gallons of drinking water a day. It was expected to come online by this year.

Since then, the plant owner, Poseidon Resources LLC, has been negotiating a water purchase agreement and is close to clinching a 30-year deal with the San Diego County Water Authority, a wholesaler to cities and agencies that provide water to 3.1 million people.

The compact is essential for Poseidon to obtain financing to build what has become a $900 million project, which includes the seaside plant and a 10-mile pipeline. The San Diego agency hopes the plant opens in 2016 and anticipates desalination will account for 7 percent of the region's supply in 2020. It estimates the cost is comparable to other new, local sources of drinking water, such as treated toilet water or briny groundwater.

Interest is still high, but "people are realizing that desalination isn't a magic fix to the state's water issues," said coastal commission water expert Tom Luster.

Water can be de-salted in different ways. Poseidon's project will use reverse osmosis. Other plants shoot ocean or brackish water at high pressure through salt-removing membrane filters. Because pumps must be used constantly to move massive amounts of water through filters, these facilities are extremely energy intensive.

Also, in many cases, desalinated water is pricier than importing water the old-fashioned way — through pipes and tunnels. And it is cheaper to focus on conservation when possible: new technologies like low-flow toilets and stricter zoning laws that require less water-intensive landscaping have helped curb demand in communities throughout the state.

Desalination has been around for years in Saudi Arabia, other Arab Gulf states and Israel, which last year approved the construction of a fifth desalination plant. The hope is that the five plants together will supply 75 percent of the country's drinking water by 2013.

The process also has helped ease thirst in places such as Australia, Spain and Singapore. Experts say it has been slower to catch on in the United States, mainly because companies face tougher rules on where they can build plants and must endure longer environmental reviews. Poseidon, for example, is facing opposition by environmental groups over its proposed plans to build another facility in Huntington Beach. The company has received several permits for the Orange County project, but still needs approval from the coastal commission.

About six miles south of the ghost desalination plant in Marina, the mechanical whir coming from a nondescript cinderblock building in a Sand City industrial park is the only evidence that the state's sole operating municipal desalination plant is at work.

The $14 million facility has the ability to produce up to 600,000 gallons a day of drinkable water for the town of about 340 people. Sand City's plant now produces half that amount each day; a third is used by the city with the rest sent elsewhere in Monterey County.

City leaders hoped to develop the former military town into an artsy, Bohemian beachside destination. With no other possible water options, they turned to desalination. "We're just like Saudi Arabia. There's nowhere else to get water and we want to develop," said Richard Simonitch, the city's civil engineer.

It's not that easy in Monterey Peninsula, where regional water use from development has exceeded its yearly rainfall replenishment and desalination is one of the only options available.

Proposals have been fraught with mistakes, political infighting and scandal, and have cost Monterey area ratepayers tens of millions of dollars.

Earlier this year, state utilities regulators rejected Monterey County's desalination plan, citing problems with environmental review. The plan was also mired in alleged corruption by a county water official, who now faces criminal charges.

Still, desalination will be an important part of the Central Coast's future: the state ordered water suppliers to stop drawing from the Carmel River, its main source of the precious resource, starting in 2017. Even officials in Marina, with its shuttered plant, see a future in which demand will require their current desalination plant to resume operation and are planning another, larger plant to help make up for the expected water loss.

"Water politics in Monterey County is a blood sport," said Jim Heitzman, general manager of the Marina Coast Water District.

_____

Chang reported from Los Angeles; Elliott Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report. Jason Dearen can be reached on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JHDearen.

Sorry you didn't like this comment. Please provide a reason below.

Are you sure?
Rating failed. Try again.
Request failed. Try again.
We will promote constructive and witty comments to the top, so everyone sees them!
Sorry, we can’t load comments right now. Try again.

    Recommended for You

    • Trump slapped with federal lawsuit in New York

      A group of American lawyers on Monday filed a federal lawsuit in New York against Donald Trump, accusing the US president of violating a constitutional ban on accepting payments from foreign governments. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is pursuing Trump over his vast business holdings, from which the billionaire has refused to divest fully, saying that as president he can have no conflict of interest. CREW says Trump's business properties abroad operate based partly on goodwill from foreign governments and regulators, but that under the US Constitution no federal official can receive a gift or "emolument" from a foreign government.

      AFP
    • China says will protect South China Sea sovereignty

      By Ben Blanchard and David Brunnstrom BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China said on Tuesday it had "irrefutable" sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea after the White House vowed to defend "international territories" in the strategic waterway. White House spokesman Sean Spicer in his comments on Monday signaled a sharp departure from years of cautious U.S. handling of China's assertive pursuit of territorial claims in Asia. "The U.S. is going to make sure that we protect our interests there," Spicer said when asked if Trump agreed with comments by his secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson.

      Reuters 13 min ago
    • Man convicted of 3 murders as teen kills himself in prison

      CAMP HILL, Pa. (AP) — A man who broke into a classmate's home in 2007 and stabbed the teenager and his parents to death has killed himself in prison, authorities said Monday.

      Associated Press
    • What's in the Box? Social Media Goes Wild Over Tiffany's Gift Melania Trump Gave Michelle Obama

      It led to an awkward exchange after Michelle Obama was unsure what to do with the gift.

      Inside Edition
    • Minnesota Gov. Dayton, 69, collapses during speech

      ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton collapsed while delivering his State of the State speech on Monday, striking his head on a lectern. The 69-year-old Democrat appeared to be conscious as he was helped into a back room several minutes later, and a top staffer said he walked out of the Capitol under his own power.

      Associated Press
    • Royals' Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

      KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Yordano Ventura quit school as a teenager so he could begin working a construction job to help his family make ends meet, laboring day after day in the hot sun of the Dominican Republic.

      Associated Press
    • The Sig P320 is the U.S. Army's New Sidearm

      The new pistol replaces the 80s vintage M9 handgun.

      Popular Mechanics
    • 12 bodies found in Mexican tourist town: officials

      A dozen bodies -- including seven that were headless and mutilated -- were discovered over the weekend in western Mexico's seaside resort of Manzanillo, apparent victims of the country's epidemic of drug violence, local officials said. It was a shocking turn of events for an area popular with American and other foreign tourists, which until now had largely been spared from the bloody drug wars wracking other parts of Mexico. Seven bodies were found early Saturday in an abandoned taxi on the road from Manzanillo to the town of Cihuatlan.

      AFP
    • Discarded protest signs from the Women’s March in NYC (28 photos)

      Following the march in New York City, protesters left behind thousands of signs around Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower. Many signs left near a construction site were taken home by admirers as souvenirs. One group of placards was made into an art installation on East 57th Street, while many of these great signs were discarded near receptacles along Fifth Avenue waiting for sanitation. (Yahoo News) Photography by Gordon Donovan /Yahoo News _____ Related slideshows: Slideshow: Signs of the Women's March around the world >>> Slideshow: Women's March on Washington, D.C. >>> Slideshow: Women’s March around the world >>> Slideshow: How newspapers covered President's Trump inauguration >>> Slideshow: Anti-Trump inauguration protests break out in U.S. >>> Slideshow: Protests worldwide against the inauguration of Donald Trump >>> Slideshow: Obama's Washington >>> Slideshow: Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day >>> Slideshow: 66 hands on 66 Bibles >>> See more news-related photo galleries , and follow us on Yahoo News Photo Tumblr.  

      Yahoo News Photo Staff
    • Chelsea Clinton shuts down trolls who targeted Barron Trump

      Former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton has spoken out in defence of Barron Trump, the US president's youngest son, after trolls targeted him with cruel memes online during the inauguration.  In a Facebook post Chelsea, who spent much of her teenage years in the spotlight while her dad Bill Clinton was president, said the 10-year-old "deserves the chance every child does-to be a kid".  But she also turned political: "Standing up for every kid also means opposing POTUS policies that hurt kids". Criticism of Barron's facial expressions and posture during the inauguration was widespread on social media, with people mocking him and calling him out for looking bored.  A Saturday Night Live writer even tweeted: "Barron will be this country's first homeschool shooter". The tweet was later deleted.  People on Facebook praised Chelsea for defending Barron while also expressing her political ideas:  BONUS: Donald Trump's inauguration address included a Bane quote ›

      Mashable
    • Hugo Barra leaves Xiaomi, says China has ‘taken a huge toll on my life’

      Smartphone startup Xiaomi began life as a peculiar beast. From within the safety of China, the company did all it could to copy every last detail of Apple's devices and marketing strategy, knowing there was precious little Apple could do to stop it. When Apple's portfolio was exhausted, Xiaomi moved on to Samsung, copying a large portion of its device lineup as well. But then, the company realized that it could only go so far selling phones in China and a handful of other markets. As growth was on track to slow substantially, Xiaomi knew that it had to work its way into other top-tier markets around the world. And so Xiaomi Global was born. The Xiaomi subsidiary has hit a few rough patches over the course of the past three-plus years, but today may be its roughest to date. On Monday, Xiaomi Global VP Hugo Barra announced that he is leaving the company. In a post on Facebook, Barra confirmed that he is leaving the company and moving back to Silicon Valley. "When Lei Jun and Bin Lin came to me nearly four years ago with the opportunity to help turn a young rockstar startup into a global player, I embarked on what has been the greatest and most challenging adventure of my life," Barra wrote . "I moved to Beijing, 6,500 miles out of my comfort zone in Silicon Valley, to build from scratch a startup team within a bigger startup. This journey has been nothing short of spectacular in every way, and I can proudly say that Xiaomi Global is the first baby I helped bring into the world." Then, his post took a curious turn. "But what I've realized is that the last few years of living in such a singular environment have taken a huge toll on my life and started affecting my health," Barra said. "My friends, what I consider to be my home, and my life are back in Silicon Valley, which is also much closer to my family. Seeing how much I've left behind these past few years, it is clear to me that the time has come to return." It's unclear exactly what Barra means when he says that working at Xiaomi in Beijing has "taken a huge toll" on his life and affected his health, but he goes on to run down some of the things Xiaomi Global has accomplished since he joined the company. Most notably, the company has expanded sales into Russia, Mexico, Malaysia and more than 20 additional markets. Of note, Barra will still play a role at Xiaomi moving forward. Mi president and cofounder Bin Lin confirmed in a post on Facebook that Barra will be an advisor to the company following his departure. "When Hugo joined us 3.5 years ago, we started an amazing adventure to turn Xiaomi into a global player," Lin wrote . "We have come a long way since, and I couldn’t thank him enough for contributing so much to Xiaomi’s journey. As much as we would love to have Hugo stay with us in Beijing for a much longer time, we understand his personal challenges and wish him all the best in his future endeavors. I’m also looking forward to working closely with him in his new role as advisor to Xiaomi."

      BGR News
    • Protesters take control of Mexican border crossing with US

      TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — Protesters took control of vehicle lanes at one of the busiest crossings on the U.S. border Sunday to oppose Mexican gasoline price hikes, waving through motorists into Mexico after Mexican authorities abandoned their posts.

      Associated Press
    • 2018 BMW M4: Light Updates

      This year's evolution of the M4.

      Car and Driver
    • China urges Trump administration to grasp importance of 'one China'

      The new U.S. administration must fully understand the importance of the "one China" policy and appreciate that the issue of Taiwan is highly sensitive for the Beijing government, China said on Monday. U.S. President Donald Trump, who was inaugurated on Friday, said in December the United States did not necessarily have to stick to its long-standing position that Taiwan is part of "one China". Earlier, Trump broke with decades of precedent by taking a telephone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.

      Reuters
    • Philippine leader tames his words for Miss Universe hopefuls

      MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivered a speech without sex jokes and expletives Monday, telling a gathering of Miss Universe contestants that he was told to be careful with his language.

      Associated Press
    • Dwarf galaxies shed light on dark matter

      The first sighting of clustered dwarf galaxies bolsters a leading theory about how big galaxies such as our Milky Way are formed, and how dark matter binds them, researchers said Monday. Seven clusters of three-to-five galaxies are each 10 to 1,000 times smaller than the Milky Way. "We suspect these groups are gravitationally bound and thus will eventually merge to form one larger, intermediate-mass galaxy," said lead author Sabrina Stierwalt, an astrophysicist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlotteville, Virginia.

      AFP
    • A Plea to Trump Fans: This Man is Dangerous

      The president is not just lying to you and me—now he’s lying to himself.

      GQ
    • Good Samaritan Shot Dead While Trying to Stop Mall Robbery

      The suspect has been charged with capital murder.

      Inside Edition
    • Trump makes early move on restricting abortions around the world

      By Ellen Wulfhorst NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday reinstated a global gag rule that bans U.S.-funded groups around the world from discussing abortion, a move that was widely expected but nonetheless dismayed women's rights advocates. The rule, which affects American non-governmental organizations working abroad, is one that incoming presidents have used to signal their positions on abortion rights. It was created under U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1984.

      Reuters
    • How to Work With a Boss You Hate

      Love your job but can't stand your boss? You've got plenty of company, according to Gallup research that shows half of workers in the U.S. have quit a job at some point because they didn't like their supervisor.

      U.S.News & World Report