California drought: Is desalination the answer?

California drought: Is desalination the answer?

It is not a new topic that California faces a serious threat from the severe drought. With the hot summer months looming, industries ranging from agriculture to craft beer could suffer due to lack of usable water.


Amid the struggle for possible solutions, some have looked to the sea for answers. The city of Carlsbad, California is located just north of San Diego and is financed by Poseidon Water Resources. The company is set to open a $1 billion desalination plant this November.


The plant will take in sea water, normally deemed unusable, and render it through “reverse osmosis,” a process which basically means aggressive filtration. Under immense pressure, the plant pushes salt water through several semi-permeable membranes to extract salt from the water. If successful, the plant could provide safe drinking water to 300,000 Southern Californians.


Diagram showing the process of reverse osmosis

Salt water will be pressured through a permeable membrane to produce usable water. (

The idea of a desalination plant is not new to California. Santa Barbara had a desalination plant in the city since the early 1990’s, but it shut down when rain became plentiful statewide. Officials have only recently looked into re-opening that plant in an attempt to fight the drought.


Despite its good intent, desalination raises some serious concerns. Reverse osmosis requires considerable energy to work. Californians would get their water at the same price as soaring carbon emissions. While California may be able to extend its water supply, it might come at a great cost that residents may not wish to pay.


Additionally, desalination plants must be prepared to shoulder the costs of such a system because the impact of just dumping the waste back into the ocean can be disastrous. The salt concentration of leftover water after the filtering process will be higher and might endanger sea-dwelling organisms. However, there are processes in place to properly dispose of this brine, such as releasing it underground to filter back into the sea or diluting it with other waste water.


Finally, if California weather lifts the state out of drought and replenishes the fresh-water supply, desalination plants might then become wasteful and redundant. This concern seems shortsighted, however, since the state currently has mandated water restrictions in place.


Only time will tell if the Carlsbad Poseidon plant will be successful. As of now, it really is the litmus test to see if statewide desalination works. Of all the questions this potential solution raises, the most important one to ask is: is it right for California?


Are you in support of desalination? Are the benefits worth the risk? Comment below or tweet @connerws to give us your input!

Conner Schwerdtfeger

A recent graduate from Chapman University, Conner aspires to tell stories that not only engage, but inform and inspire readers around the world. Growing up in the highly active culture of San Diego, he has a passion for adventure and is always looking for new and interesting experiences. Fun is the name of the game, and he holds firm to the idea that a day without laughter is a day wasted. He has a passion for fitness, and when not at his desk can most likely be found hiking or swimming. He reports on a wide variety of topics for MUIPR, with an emphasis on entertainment and current events. Follow on Twitter @connerws.

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