As California searches for ways to mitigate its growing water vulnerability, the state has turned to desalination as a means of increasing its water supply with four currently in operation that produce drinking water. After rejecting a proposed plant in Huntington Beach in May for reasons ranging from environmental to financial, the California Coastal Commission approved the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project at Dana Point in October, and within the month, a second desal plant was approved for the Monterey Peninsula.

California American Water, the largest publicly traded water and wastewater company in the U.S., plans to build the Monterey plant. It is expected to produce 4.8 million gallons of water per day and provide drinking water to 100,000 people.[1] The project was proposed nine years ago, and in 2020 the commission recommended that the project be rejected; however, after three years of extreme drought conditions and facing the likelihood of a fourth, concerns about future water availability ultimately paved the way for its approval. 

The project still faces multiple hurdles before construction can begin. Concerns related to ecological impacts to area habitats, wetlands and aquifers were the initial driving arguments against the project that still must be addressed. Additionally, the plant will have to attain the necessary permits and resolve a legal battle over groundwater rights. Significant resistance to the project stems from the fact that the water produced by the plant would not serve the peninsula community: the community does not need or want the water. Instead, the water would be shipped to other, some more affluent, communities. Lastly, the plant will increase monthly water bills by $50 according to California American Water, approximately 50 percent more than the current average bill, generating an indisputable burden for much of this disadvantaged community.[2]

In its favor, the desal plant is smaller than the rejected Huntington Beach plant, closer to the size of the plant at Dana Point. Also similar to the Dana point plant, the Monterey plant would run pipes under the ocean floor, thereby protecting sea life from the pumps. To address financial implications to lower income customers, the commission added a provision that any increases in rates must be capped at $10 per month for qualifying consumers.

California American Water hopes to have the plant in operation by 2027.

[1] Becker, Rachel. “Another California Desalination Plant Approved - the Most Contentious One Yet.” CalMatters, 18 Nov. 2022,

[2] Becker, Rachel. “Another California Desalination Plant Approved - the Most Contentious One Yet.” CalMatters, 18 Nov. 2022,