Although it's not exactly news that California could use some more water, new research has revealed just how extensive the need has become — and at what cost for the state economy. The good news is, new research of a much different kind has revealed the answer: affordable, large-scale ocean desalination.
California's water problem is so extensive that only a widely scoped solution will do. In a new UC Davis study reported by CNBC, water shortages this year were determined to threaten a whopping $550 million cost to the state's agricultural industry, plus over 1,800 lost jobs. With other indirect costs, researchers forecasted, the total burden rises to $600 million and some 4,700 jobs. Compounding the misery, last year, the numbers were even worse: a total economic loss of over $2.5 billion and 21,000 jobs.
Even with a robust new rainy season, it will take a much larger and steadier supply of water to make up for what Californians have lost. Add in the demand for water brought on by of California's ongoing struggle with wildfires, and the prognosis looks even worse: to contain and extinguish blazes in remote rural areas, firefighters must rely on whatever water is nearest — an extra burden when reservoirs shared with population centers are running low.
That's where bold new advances in desalination technology come in. In Israel, researchers have developed new filtering membrane technologies that now ensure over half of the country's domestic water comes from desalination — engineering a radical turnaround from one of the worst droughts in history to a fresh water surplus.
In fact, Israeli technology has already come to California shores. Leading the charge is Israel's IDE Technology, the firm behind the Sorek desalination plant, famous as the world's largest reverse-osmosis facility. Taking its show on the road last year, IDE's U.S. subsidiary designed the state's biggest desalination plant — also the biggest in the Western Hemisphere — at Carlsbad. Operating the plant, IDE promised 2,500 new jobs and a $350 million injection into the area economy.
California's next step forward is poised to achieve further advances that build off of IDE's innovation. To secure support for the Huntington Beach desalination plant, which will churn out as much fresh water as the Carlsbad plant, Poseidon Water announced that the facility will be fully carbon-neutral, a move that earned praise from State Senate president pro tempore Kevin de Leon. Beyond its practical benefits, at a time when the politics of energy and infrastructure development is so often a bone of contention in California, desalination offers a water solution that members of both major parties can get behind.
Desalination isn't a magic bullet, but a magic bullet isn't what's needed. Rather than a pinpoint solution, California requires a solid, dependable foundation for meeting its ordinary and extraordinary consumption needs. And many Californians want more: an escape from the cycle of use that makes crisis-era rationing a way of life. Desalination can deliver, without wreaking environmental havoc or splitting the state along familiar partisan lines.
REPRINTED FROM THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER