For Drinking Water in Drought, California looks Warily to the Sea

Situated along the beautiful coastline of the Pacific Ocean, California is in a central position to harness the powers of water. In previous times of drought, Californians would often look to the ocean and question “what are we waiting for?” Yet, there are repercussions that must be investigated before one continues onward in the pursuit of desalinated drinking water.

Justin Gillis, of the New York Times, writes “For Drinking Water in Drought, California Looks Warily to Sea,” providing an objective passage on the water crisis and alternatives being sought in California. Splashing upon California’s shores is untapped water-- “187 quintillion gallons” of it. Poseidon Water has recently began an estimated $1 billion dollar desalination plant to be built in the San Diego County; the plant is expected to open in November and provide a remedy to the current water crisis. However, this will not be the first plant that has been created. Others already exist in both Texas and Florida, two states looking to fight against dry spells and rising sea levels respectively. Moreover, smaller facilities are present upon California coastline, including a mothballed--but soon to be re-opened--plant in Santa Barbara. When examining the current plant being constructed in San Diego, it is important to look at the logistics surrounding it. This plant will be the largest in America, creating 50 million gallons of fresh drinking water per day. Yet, with the potential benefits of this plant, one must almost look at the consequences. Such ethical and economic issues to follow include: an increase in water bills, increased CO2 emissions, a disastrous impact on sea life, the prospect of inactive plants. At current in San Diego county, the average water bill is $75; yet, if the county begins to rely more often on desalinated drinking water, there is likely to be at least a $5 increase. Moreover, due to the extreme amount of electricity used, ocean purification plants have large CO2 outputs, propelling our globe into the global warming pandemic. In exchange for the hefty CO2 emissions created by plants, Poseidon Water has offered to counter environmental issues by putting forth money to offset the increase of greenhouse gases. Furthermore the disposing of excess salt into the ocean creates a harm to the overall equilibrium of life within the sea; plants and animals in the ocean are sensitive to salinity changes, therefore the underwater ecosystems are put at risk. Lastly, one has to consider the future of these plants if California is experience more rain; as seen before in countries such as Australia, desalination plants become stagnant when the first drops of water begin to fall from the skies. These large concrete structures will then be leaving water customers enveloped in many dollars worth of construction bills.

Helene Schneider, mayor of Santa Barbara states, “no water is a worse option than very expensive water.” I reluctantly agree with this statement and see desalination plants as a simply inevitable future to counter the drought that constricts California. Although there are various cons of using this technology at the moment, there is also the hope that we can make advancements through the use of it and lessen the environmental impact and economic cost. If desalination plants before more prevalent along the California coast, there is likely to be a drop in water bills because the technology is no longer so limited, but more widespread and common. With an estimated 12 to 18 months of water left (L.A. Times), there needs to be immediate action taken to fight against the drought. In order to escape the current drought California will need “11 trillion gallons” of water; as CNN reported, that's "the amount of water that flows over Niagara Falls in about 170 days' time." With current and predicted weather conditions, there will not be enough water to sustain the lifestyle of many Californians and to facilitate the growth of the nation’s crops. On a hopeful note for the future of desalination plants, one can look towards Israel, a country once in water crisis, that has turned to water purification facilities in order to remedy their issues. The country now places half of its reliance upon desalinated water and thrives free from terrible drought.

Knowing the current water crisis in California and the estimated amount of rain water needed to get California out of the drought, do you think that we should press onward with desalination plants, despite the presented consequences?