Desalination will be key to California’s water future.

  • 02.11.2022
  • Cal Matters

There is no single way out of a future in which all agriculture leaves the West, desert cities from Denver to San Diego are no longer livable, and Native Americans continue to be denied legally enshrined water rights. Measures like better water reuse and more sustainable groundwater management just aren’t enough for California.

The water crisis will only be solved if we realize the once quixotic vision of desalination, turning seawater into freshwater. Today, roughly 18,000 desalination plants produce around 1% of the world’s freshwater, with production concentrated in regions of high water scarcity such as Israel and Australia.

The desalination process is so energy-intensive that desalination plants often require carbon-emitting power plants right next door, which can increase costs up to 10 times higher than groundwater. The high-pressure intake of seawater also threatens ocean life, and the output of brine threatens coastal environments.

Desalination will be a major piece of California’s water future, and its inevitability demands the research, policy and funding attention of an imperiled human right. Safe, efficient and clean desalination means fewer dams, cheaper and broader access to water, and the ability to support