California regulators are likely to approve a new water desalination plant today as state officials look for solutions to ongoing water shortages, as the state struggles through its worst drought in over 1,000 years.
The California Coastal Commission is set to vote on the $140 million proposed desalination plant that was suggested for South Orange County at Doheny State Beach, NBC Los Angeles reported. The Pacific Ocean could provide up to 5 million gallons of water a day and meet water needs for about 35,000 people, according to NBC Los Angeles. This local plant will make it so that South Orange County will no longer have to rely on water that is pumped from many miles away, from places like the rapidly drying Colorado River, Reuters reported.
A desalination plant draws in ocean water and filters it to remove solid particles that would slow down the desalination process. That filtered water then goes through reverse osmosis, which removes minerals like salt, according to the San Diego County Water Authority’s website. Beneficial minerals and chemicals are added to ensure quality, and then it can go to meet local water needs.
This expected approval comes after another desalination plant, slated to be constructed in Huntington Beach, was rejected this past May. That plant was supposed to cost over a billion dollars, and officials worried that the large facility would hurt marine life in the area, Cal Matters reported. The smaller plant that is set to be approved would have a reduced environmental impact on the surrounding area. The brine that comes from the desalination process will be discharged along with the water at a neighboring wastewater treatment plant, which will further decrease local environmental impacts, Reuters reported.
The longtime drought is affecting various aspects of life across the state. Some low-income communities across California are struggling to pay water bills. The increases have occurred faster than inflation: Water bills have increased about 45% from 2007 to 2015, according to a 2020 review from the California State Water Resources Control Board. The water shortage situation is especially dire for the city of Coalinga, which is almost out of water.
California’s water woes come after an especially dry winter. Snow melt would have fed into the state’s waterways, but with little snowpack this year, California’s largest reservoirs saw alarmingly low water levels.
The state has also been pummeled by multiple heat waves that have only worsened the dry conditions. This extra-dry year has also messed with the price of tomatoes, because so many crops have withered before they could be harvested.
The climate crisis has increased the likelihood of hotter and drier conditions around the world, but especially in areas like California that struggle with long-term water access.