All living things need water to survive, and as drought conditions grip more of the world, it becomes vitally important to find ways to extend resources. Earth is comprised of 70% water which should be beneficial to the global water crisis, but it can’t be used in its natural state. As climate change lessens precipitation, depletes ground water, and population growth exacerbates the issue with increasing demand, desalination has gained traction, especially in places like California that are looking for ways to broaden their water portfolio and ensure water resilience for the future.
Although the state currently has more than 20 ocean desalination plants, the concept has had varied levels of support. The California Coastal Commission rejected a long-battled proposal for a plant in Huntington Beach by Poseidon in May, calling into question whether the Commission would support future desal proposals; however, in October, the Commission gave the green light to the Doheny Ocean Desalination project paving the way for future seawater projects.
Whereas Poseidon’s Huntington Beach project was unanimously denied, the Doheny State Beach project was unanimously approved, alluding to significant differences between the two. The most obvious differences are in cost and size. The Doheny project is estimated to cost $140 million and will produce 5 million gallons of drinkable water per day, serving approximately 35,000 residents in an area that relies on water imports for 85 percent of its water. In comparison, Poseidon’s project was estimated at $1.4 billion and would have produced 50 million gallons per day for an area that relies on imports for only 23 percent of its water. This area is also more drought resilient with access to both groundwater and a water recycling system.
Another difference relates to the way the water is pumped from the ocean. The Doheny project proposes to pipe it from under the ocean floor instead of directly from the ocean as proposed by Poseidon, thereby protecting marine life from being sucked into the desal plant. Concerns regarding Poseidon’s project often focused on possible impacts to marine life and the environment as voiced by many residents and environmental groups over the twenty years the project was under consideration.
A final difference in the projects is ownership. The Doheny plant is to be owned by a public company whereas Poseidon, a private company, would have owned the Huntington Beach plant. The next desal plant up for consideration by the Commission would be located in Monterey County. Although it would also pipe seawater from under the ocean floor, it would be owned by a private company and is already under intense environmental scrutiny. A public hearing with the Coastal Commission on the matter is scheduled for this month.
 Stone, Erin. “A Tale of Two Ocean Water Desalination Plants and Finding a Solution to Drought.” LAist, 6 June 2022, https://laist.com/news/climate-environment/a-tale-of-two-ocean-water-desalination-plants-and-finding-solutions-to-the-drought.