“The Carlsbad Desalination Project will provide San Diego county with a locally-controlled, drought-proof supply of high-quality water that meets or exceeds all state and federal drinking water standards.”
The quote above comes directly from carlsbaddesal.com,the website for Carlsbad’s new desalinating water plant. The process of desalination includes removing salt and unhealthy minerals from saline water. When discussing the current drought in California, there is often talk of desalination and its potential to increase our freshwater supply. Removing salt and minerals from saline water seems like an obvious solution to the drought and ongoing water scarcity concerns because it is a reliable water source.
Fourteen new desalination plants have been in the works to produce more drinkable water along the California coast. For many, this may seem like an answer to the “exceptional drought”. As consumers, it may also seem like a way to help us avoid making lifestyle changes, such as Governor Jerry Brown’s call for Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent. But while desalination may be a reliable option, the answer is much more complicated.
One of the greatest issues with desalination is the cost associated with these projects. A new plant may cost upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars to build (a billion in the case of the Carlsbad facility), plus considerable cost to run the plant.
Beyond the costs to build these facilities, operational costs are substantial and raise concerns over the energy requirements and their impacts. Energy costs make up around a third of total operating costs for a typical desalination plant. In California, there is concern about vulnerability to short-term and long-term energy price increases. During a drought, energy prices tend to increase due to the reduced ability to generate hydropower and the need to replace that hydropower with more expensive energy sources. These costs are often overlooked and not always factored into the total project cost. Long term, energy prices are not static and may increase due to the rising costs of developing renewable alternatives and building and maintaining new and existing infrastructure.
With these high capital and operational costs also comes a higher cost of its product, water. Desalinated water can cost upwards of $1,900 per acre foot, considerably more than other alternatives such as water conservation and efficiency, stormwater capture, and recycled water.
Aside from the costs, there are other potential externalities associated with desalination facilities, including environmental impacts. Seawater intake systems that draw ocean water in through screened pipes impinge marine organisms on the intakes. Smaller organisms able to pass through, such as eggs, larvae, and plankton, are entrained into the plant and killed during the desalination process. Produced water disposal can also have a substantial threat to marine life. The salt is concentrated into a brine that is usually pumped back out to sea for disposal after going through the desalination process. These point sources increase salinity levels and may affect local sea life, depending on the plant’s location and sea currents.
The idea of building seawater desalination plants during a drought is not a new one. In 1991, a desalination plant in Santa Barbara was constructed in response to the 1987-1992 drought. Once the plant was completed, abundant rainfall rendered the plant cost-inefficient, and it shut down in 1992. Currently, costs to restart the plant are being assessed as the technology and infrastructure are dated and would incur new capital investment. Likewise, six seawater desalination plants were built in Australia in response to the Millennium Drought. Today, four out of the six plants are left idle due to the availability of cheaper alternatives. These examples should serve as cautionary tales.
The good news is that we still have cost-effective options readily available. A study by the Pacific Institute and NRDC shows how California’s drought can be managed with better allocation and management of water resources. By implementing water-saving practices, water reuse, and stormwater capture, California can save 5.2 to 7.1 million acre-feet of water each year in our urban areas – equivalent to the output of 125 large desalination plants!
Sustainable water management is best served by creating a comprehensive water management strategy in California, one that captures the most cost-effective options first. California has the ability to bridge the gap between water demand and supply by taking advantage of the existing resources and practices that have yet to be fully and efficiently harnessed.
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Wondering if El Nino is really coming for all of us in California? Well look no further, because the NOAA National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center has answered your questions.
To sum their Aug 13th report up, “There is a greater than 90% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, and around an 85% chance it will last into early spring 2016.”
How can scientists tell that this is really happening? Atmospheric and oceanic conditions have been portraying El Nino features. Some of these features include increases in sea temperatures, specific movement of Kelvin waves, and exact positions of wind movement. These features emulate those of a former El Nino; the 1997 El Nino ocean temperatures were just as high as those today, and scientists say today’s El Nino may even top that of 1997.
So get out your rain jackets, boots, and skis, and prepare for the 2015/2016 El Nino that could help you to have the best shred yet.
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Tagged 1997, atmosphere, california, center, climate, conditions, El Nino, fall, features, high, increase, kevin wave, movement, Nino, NOAA, Northern Hemisphere, ocean, ocean temperature, pattern, patterns, position, prediction, research, San Diego, scientist, scientists, sea, sea temperature, season, ski, snow, spring, temperature, waves, weather, wind, winter
The California drought has taught us many things. 1) We need to use less water in our homes 2) More natural disasters occur when our land is too dry 3) Less rainfall is good for our oceans? Yes, this is true. Rainfall has actually polluted the waters along the San Diego coast in the past due to the large amount of toxins that the water picks up along the way. So, less rainfall=less polluted waters.
According to the environmental group Heal The Bay, which assesses water quality for Southern California beaches and assigns them grades, 96% of the area’s 72 beaches are pretty healthy. That means that out of an A-F grade, they received either an A or a B. Their health ratings have increased 2% in the past 5 years, partially due to a program that plants water cleansing plants in creeks to filter water going to the ocean.
The areas that were rated among the cleanest in San Diego County included San Elijo State Beach and Cardiff State Beach in Encinitas, Ocean Beach Pier, Point Loma Lighthouse and Silver Strand in Coronado.
However, the areas that proved to have the worst water quality were Cottonwood Creek Outlet at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, Seascape Surf Beach Park in Solana Beach, San Diego River Dog Beach in Ocean Beach, the pier and Cortez Avenue at Imperial Beach, the mouth of the Tijuana River, and beaches at Border Field State Park.
Sarah Sikich, who is vice president of Heal the Bay, says, “In a time of severe drought, it’s madness to send billions of gallons of runoff to pollute the sea when we could be capturing and cleansing that water for daily use. The rains will return, and when they do we need to capture this valuable resource to maximize our local water supplies and keep polluted water out of our ocean.”
We need to do so much more to help our environment and prevent runoff from polluting our oceans. To check out more about how you can help, visit healthebay.org. Also check out Filtercon Technologies for our water filtering products to make sure that you aren’t drinking dirty city water (www.filtercon.com).
Moonlight: Swami’s Beaches Score Low on Water Health. Encinitas Patch. June 18th, 2015. http://patch.com/california/encinitas/moonlight-swamis-beaches-score-low-water-health-0
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