|"Carlsbad desalination plant3" by Bovlb - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons|
California has been in a terrible drought, leaving many regions with limited water supply including Orange County. Orange County Water District recently expressed interest in the Proposed Poseidon Desalination Plant Huntington Beach. Orange County Coastkeeper recognizes that while responsible desalination that considers monetary, environmental and ecological impacts can be a good solution for water scarcity, the proposed Poseidon Desalination Plant comes with costs that outweigh the rewards.
What is Desalination?
Desalination is the process of turning saltwater into freshwater. Desalination essentially removes salts and minerals from seawater, usually through Reverse Osmosis.
What are the Problems With the Proposed Poseidon Desalination Plant?
This plant would be the largest facility of its type in North America with a $1-billion projected building cost, ultimately raising water rates in Orange County. California urban ratepayers rarely pay more than $1 to $3 per thousand gallons for their water. The Poseidon Plant could cost ratepayers as high as $9 to $10 per thousand gallons.
Energy is a key factor in deciding if the Poseidon Plant is a good option. An estimated requirement to power the Desalination Plant is enough to power 30,000 homes. Orange County simply exchanges desalinated water for energy price spikes, increasing the already high cost of desalinated water.
The two big environmental impacts of the plant occur from sea water withdrawal and pollution discharged into the ocean.
- Sea Water Withdrawal
The proposed desalination plant doesn’t just take in sea water, it takes in habitat. Poseidon would use intake pipes covered by large screens that trap and kill large organisms such as fish, mammals, birds and invertebrate. The smaller organisms such as fish eggs, plankton and larvae, pass through the screens and are killed during the cooling process. The Huntington Beach Generating Station (HBGS) estimates that 51 thousand fish and between 104 million to 345 million fish larvae would be killed per year.
Brine discharge is the byproduct of concentrated salt and harmful chemicals the Poseidon plant would release into ocean, polluting our precious coastal waters. Additionally, plants of this nature discharge pollution due to plant corrosion, leaching heavy metals such as copper, lead and iron. This pollution harms ecosystems and sea life that dwells in our ocean, the same water we love to swim, surf and snorkel in.
Are There Good Solutions to Orange County’s Drought Problem?
Orange County Coastkeeper supports desalination as an excellent solution for the current state of drought, but only responsible desalination that considers the true monetary, environmental and ecological costs of a desalination plant. It’s important to first fully explore less expensive and proven options such as the existing Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) and conservation.
Conservation is the most affordable way for Orange County to address the water supply issues. Southern California residents use around 60 percent of their water outside of their homes on things such as landscaping, washing the car and hosing down the driveway. Through SmartScape, or drought-tolerant landscaping, and water conservation awareness, Orange County can address the drought without using more energy, spending more money or damaging our ecosystems.
Being a part of your community means staying in the know about community issues and participating in the public debate. A decision such as whether desalination is the right solution to Orange County’s water supply problem will affect you and future generations of the region. It’s up to us to make a responsible decision for our community and ecosystems.