Water scarcity, a growing global phenomenon, has compelled mankind to seek additional water sources, and many are turning to the most abundant water source on the planet—the ocean.  The problem with seawater, of course, is the salt.  In many parts of the world, desalination has become the key to accessing alternative water supplies with 21,000 desalination plants located in over 120 countries producing more than 3.5 billion gallons of potable water a day.[1]  The technology is gaining traction in the U.S. and cannot be discounted as a viable option especially in California as it navigates water insecurities and increasing climate change impacts. To date, the state has approved 11 desalination plants, but the latest proposed plant for Huntington Beach was unanimously voted down by the California Coastal Commission.

In the U.S., desalination is more often used for brackish groundwater than seawater.  The technology has been applied in limited numbers along the West Coast primarily due to cost: desalination has a higher price tag than that for pumping or water delivery from other locations. Presently, the largest desalination plant in the U.S. is located in Carlsbad, California and cost $1 billion, producing 50 million gallons per day.  The Huntington Beach plant was priced at $1.4 billion and would have taken in approximately 107 million gallons of seawater and delivered 50 million gallons of potable water each day, an amount that would supply roughly 460,000 people.[2]  Poseidon Water is the developer of both projects.

After 20 years of planning and consideration, the Coastal Commission rejected the proposed Huntington Beach project in an 11 – 0 vote enumerating cost, lack of demand, and environmental concerns as grounds for their decision.  Specific environmental concerns included risks to marine life and due to the lower geographical level of the project site, the potential for future flooding as sea levels continue to rise. 

The determination of the Commission is seen as a setback for future application of desalination in California, although people involved in the decision to reject the Huntington Beach project indicated they are not opposed to the concept but stated that future projects must be done the right way.  There was no comment from representatives of Poseidon regarding future plans to revive the project.


[1] “Desalination Worldwide.” Huntington Beach Desalination Project, www.hbfreshwater.com/desalination-worldwide.html#:~:text=Of%20more%20than%20the%20existing%2021%2C000%20desalination%20plants,a%20widespread%20use%20in%20Florida%20California%20and%20Texas.

[2] Becker, Rachel, and Ca; Matters. “Water-Hungry California Suffers Setback with Rejected Desalination Plans.” Governing, Governing, 16 May 2022, www.governing.com/now/water-hungry-california-suffers-setback-with-rejected-desalination-plans.