Middle East Desalination
Huntington Beach Proposal
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Huntington Beach Proposal
Desalination is seen by some as a solution to the problem of a shortage of
potable water. In the state of California alone the population is expected
to increase by 60,000 people per year. In an effort to meet the demand for
fresh water, California already has 11 seawater desalination plants in
operation along the cost. An additional 21 plants are in the planning
stages. Desalination technology is becoming more beneficial in the cost
aspect. Over the last decade the price has gone down from $2,000 per acre
foot in 1990 to $800 in 2003. (An acre foot is equivalent to 326,000 gallons
or about one households use in a year). As an incentive to increase the
production of desalination plants, the Metropolitan Water District in
Southern California is offering subsidies of $250 per acre foot. States such
as Florida, Texas, Hawaii, and New Mexico are also applying desalination
technology to meet their water demand needs.
In addition to using seawater for desalination, brackish ground water may
also be used. Below are some statistics comparing the two.
3,260-4,900 kWh per acre foot
1,300-3,250 kWh per acre foot
Plants in operation
Plants in planning
The energy and cost is lower in the desalination of brackish groundwater
because of the lower saline concentration.
There are various regulatory bodies overseeing the planning, building, and
maintenance of desalination plants in the United States. Some bodies include
the EPA, Coast Guard, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Specifically
California desalinations are regulated under the California Coastal Act,
among others. Details of this act are discussed below.
California Costal Act and Environmental Impacts
Two sections of the California Costal Act specifically address the issues of
marine life and water quality and are stated as follows:
“Marine resources shall be maintained, enhanced, and where feasible
restored. Special protection shall be gives to areas and species of special
biological or economic significance. Use of marine environment shall be
carried out in a manner that will sustain the biological productivity of
coastal waters and that will maintain healthy populations of all species of
marine organisms adequate for long-term commercial, recreational,
scientific, and educational purposes.”
“The biological productivity and the quality of coastal waters, streams,
wetlands, estuaries, and lakes appropriate to maintain optimum populations
of marine organisms and for the protection of human health shall be
maintained and , where feasible, resorted through, among other means,
minimizing adverse effects of waste water discharges and entrainment,
controlling runoff, prevention depletion of ground water supplies and
substantial interference with surface water flow, encouraging waste water
reclamation, maintaining natural vegetation buffer areas the protect
riparian habitats, and minimizing alteration of natural streams.” http://www.coastal.ca.gov/energy/14a-3-2004-desalination.pdf
Intake and Discharge
In the process of reverse osmosis, the technique used most in the US, for
every 2 gallons of intake water, 1 gallon of potable water is produced and 1
gallon of brine is produced. Intake, the first step in desalination, and
discharge can have the potential to adversely harm marine life. The
California Costal Act states that the water and marine life should at the
minimum be maintained, a task which intake and discharge practices can
impede on. During intake, marine life can be harmed or even killed when they
are pulled into the intake pipe and are unable to escape due to the large
A solution to the intake problem is the potential use of a subsurface intake
such as a beachwell or an open water intake. In areas where the soil types
consist of clay, silt or unfractured rock, this alternative would not work.
Ideally sandy soil would be needed to act as a natural filter.
The city of Long Beach, California has proposed a system that would reduce
the harmful effects of intake. They plan to use a system of pipes located
underneath the sand in the ocean. Sand acts as a natural filter to the water
being drawn into the plant. This system can also be used for the highly
concentrated brine byproduct of desalination that is discharged.
1. Reducing the intake velocity- Fish and other organisms are able to escape
or avoid being pulled in when the velocity is below .5 feet per second.
2. Velocity Caps-Fish have the ability to detect changes in horizontal
velocity, but have a difficult time detecting changes coming vertically.
Most intake systems pull water from above, making it difficult for the fish
to detect. Placing a cap on the intake and leaving a gap between the intake
and the cap allows for a flow that can be detected by fish.
3. Screens and fish return systems- screens placed at the landward side of
the intake system allow fish to be release into an area prior to the plant.
A fish return system can be implemented in this area to route the fish back
to the body of water.
The brine discharged from a desalination plant can have a saline
concentration of 70,000 ppm compared to the intake water of 35,000ppm.
Organisms are adapted to the natural saline concentration and most of the
time cannot handle the dramatic increase in concentration. Also, organisms
at different stages of their lives have different sensitivity levels to
“Chemicals used during the desalination process include chlorine, ozone, or
other biocides, various coagulants, acids, antiscalants, and others”.
found in the intake water also become part of the waste stream produced
The filters and membranes used in intake and the desalination process itself
collect biomass. The accumulated dead organisms are forced to become part of
the plants waste.
1. Location, Location, Location! - finding a proper location for discharge
is crucial. Discharge should be done in areas where the population is not
sensitive to changes in water quality.
2. Diffusers- allowing the discharge to be spread over a large area can
result in faster diffusion into the water.
It is very important to note that the environmental impacts as well as cost
and benefits vary from place to place.
BENEFITS OF DESALINTAION
Seawater is not in short supply
Reduce withdrawal from surface and groundwater sources (top 2 http://www.coastal.ca.gov/energy/14a-3-2004-desalination.pdf
Local control of water supplies
Reliable water source in times of drought (next 2 http://resources.ca.gov/ocean/97Agenda/Chap5Desal.html)
• improved fish habitat due to reduced diversions from rivers, streams, and
• energy savings and less air pollution if the amount of water being pumped
across the state is reduced
• greater protection of high-quality groundwater due to reduced pumping of
aquifers (bullets from http://currents.ucsc.edu/05-06/07-11/desalination.asp)
Not energy efficient
Huntington Beach, California
There is a current debate in Huntington Beach, California, located in Orange
County, over a proposed reverse osmosis desalination plant on 11 acres of
land. It would be capable of producing 50 million gallons of water a day and
contain transmission lines to other cities. A vote by the city council to
approve the project has been postponed to December 19th, 2005
The plant would be located adjacent to the Huntington Beach Generation
Station (HBGS) which uses a once through cooling system with an offshore
intake and outfall. Water would be taken from the cooling system. HBGS uses
an intake structure that is located about 1,840 feet offshore. The brine
discharge created would be blended with HBGS discharge and released. http://www.surfcity-hb.org/files/users/planning/Section%201.0%20-%20Executive%20Summary.pdf
There are other techniques in the process of desalination, such as
multi-effect distillation, and alternatives to the intake method, such as
using vertical wells. Neither of these alternatives are feasible because of
the extreme heights of the vertical tubes required for muti-effect and the
dependency of electrical power to generate steam. The number of vertical
wells required to meet the 50 million gallons per day output is infeasible.
Reverse Osmosis membranes would have the capability to “retain and remove
over 99.5 percent of the seawater salinity; over 99 percent of the metals
and organics; 99.99 percent of the bacteria and other pathogens (Giardia and
Cryptosporidium) and 99.9 percent of the viruses in the source water.”
In addition, the desalinated water would be treated with chloramines to
provide another level of safety.
The city council has identified three major controversies as identified by
1. Current harm to marine life through the once through cooling system, and
the potential harm that could arise from the proposed project.
2. The potential of growth-impacts due to the project
The potential for a new seemingly unlimited supply of freshwater may draw an
increased population to the coastal areas.
3. Pipelines are in existence for regional distribution of existing water,
but there is a potential for the new system to be incompatible.
For more information on the Huntington Beach City Council’s decision,
environmental impact statements and staff reports click http://www.surfcity-hb.org/citydepartments/planning/major/poseidon.cfm.
Sources are listed as they are used in above text.