California Approves $140mil Desalination Plant amid Historic Drought

The worst drought in 1,200 years has hit California. California regulators unanimously approved a $140 million desalination plant in order to produce a guideline for how the state can convert ocean water into drinking water. 

It marks the first desalination that has been approved by the Coastal Commission since stricter regulations were put into place in 2019, especially concerning environmental protection. 

Only a mere five months ago, the same Coastal Commission unanimously rejected a much larger and privately owned plant, citing environmental concerns. 

The South Coast Water District’s proposed Doheny Ocean Desalination Project is one-tenth the size of the original proposal and won approval by the same 11-0 vote.

Experts and researchers said that the approved plant is more nimble and smaller than the original proposal, which allows for the continuation of environmental protection. Environmental groups that led the protests against the Poseidon plant were largely silent this time.

The Coastal Commission staff found that the new proposal minimized the harmful impacts on the environment, citing not only the smaller size than the original proposal but also the different technology.

The new plant is expected to produce 5 million gallons of drinking water per day. This would be enough drinking water for some 40,000 people. 

It is meant to serve a small water utility in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles.

The district currently would need to rely on water pumped from hundreds of miles away, through the State Water Project or the Colorado River. The new plant means that the South Coast Water District would now have its own water supply.

It also comes amid concern of extreme drought hitting the Colorado River, which may force cutbacks of 15 to 30 percent for water users from California and elsewhere. 

The project still requires other state permits but the Coastal Commission was seen as the most significant regulatory hurdle.

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