More desalination

Pipes containing drinking water at the Poseidon Water desalination plant in Carlsbad on June 22, 2021. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters
Pipelines at the Poseidon water desalination plant in Carlsbad. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

Desalination is an oft-touted fix for water woes in California, with its ample shoreline. But in practice, environmental concerns and costs have limited the energy-intensive practice

Four ocean water desalination facilities in California produce nearly 60,000 acre-feet of drinking water. More provide water for industries or other facilities

New desalination proposals have been rife with controversy. The California Coastal Commission in 2022 rejected a seawater desalination plant in Huntington Beach, with state analysts warning of high costs, a lack of local demand and risks to marine life. But just months later, the commission pivoted, greenlighting a plant in Orange County’s Dana Point.

A lesser-known but rapidly growing strategy is brackish water desalination, which cleans up salty supplies, such as from groundwater, that can then be used for drinking water. 

About 23 of these plants have the capacity to produce nearly 140,000 acre-feet of water in a year, based on a 2013 analysis. They use less energy than their seawater counterparts.