California looks to make desalination easier

Six recommendations to facilitate desalination in California are contained in the draft update to the California Water Plan, which was published online at the end of January 2009.

The plan also contains an examination of the major issues facing desalination and its costs.

The six recommendations are:

  • Desalination should be considered, where economically and environmentally appropriate, as an element of a balanced water supply portfolio, which also includes conservation and water recycling to the maximum extent practicable.
  • Desalination projects developed by or for public water entities should be given the same opportunities for State assistance and funding as other water supply and reliability projects.
  • Where appropriate, desalination must be considered by an IRWM (Integrated Regional Water Management) planning region in developing a strategy to meet the water resource management goals and objectives of the region.
  • Ensure adequate funding to further develop emerging technologies to advance and refine desalination processes, energy efficiencies, and the use of alternative and renewable energies.
  • Provide technical assistance and funding, when available, to local agencies exploring desalination to help with the implementation of their desalination programs.
  • Provide guidance on permitting requirements to help agencies pursuing desalination overcome the complex regulatory process. There is a need for a State clearinghouse to serve as an information source and facilitator for desalination projects, particularly for seawater desalination.
  • On the cost of desalination, the draft plan says, “The higher costs of desalting may, in some cases, be offset by the benefits of increased water supply reliability and/or the environmental benefits from substituting desalination for a water supply with higher environmental costs (eg Carmel River, Monterey Bay area).”

    When comparing the cost and impacts of desalination as a water supply option, the plan says that it is important to compare it with the development of other new water supply options.

    The plan also comments on the energy consumption of desalination compared with other options: “Even though desalination is energy intensive, other conventional water supply options might in some instances be as energy intensive. At a given point of use, energy intensity of a water supply is the total amount of energy required for its extraction, treatment and conveyance. Energy required for pumping and transporting water over long distances could even be higher than that needed to desalinate local saline waters.”

    Workshops on the draft will begin later this month and will be scheduled through May 2009. Comments about the draft are due by 5 June 2009.