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Coastal Commission’s Water Obstructionism

Last week, the California Coastal Commission rejected the proposed construction of a desalination plant in Huntington Beach “sealing the controversial project’s fate after more than 20 years of debate,” according to Calmatters. “The unanimous decision about the $1.4-billion plant in Huntington Beach is pivotal because it sets a high bar for the future of turning seawater into drinking water in California, which can help buffer its vulnerable water supply against drought. The Coastal Commission staff had advised the commission to deny approval — citing, among other factors, the high cost of the water and lack of local demand for it, the risks to marine life and the possibility of flooding in the area as sea levels rise.”

What a crock. Guess the Commission is unaware that California is in a historic extended drought that calls for trying to solve water shortage problems, not exacerbating them. For example, desal plants would certainly offset, to some degree, rise in sea levels as coastal waters are processed into potable water.

And, of course, the Republicans had something to say about the Commission’s decision, even though they’re as much to blame as the Democrats for our state’s abysmal water policy.

Assemblyman Vince Fong said this about the Coastal Commission’s rejection of the SoCal desal plant: “The Governor touts the state’s ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to address the drought. Yet, he did not propose funding for above ground water in this year’s budget. His Administration has not approved permits for water storage projects like Sites Reservoir — after almost a decade of voters’ approval of Proposition 1, a $2.7 billion bond dedicated to build water storage. These empty promises come on the heels of the California Coastal Commission’s rejection of a desalination plant in Southern California.”

According to a summary of a study I came across this week published in Science Magazine, it appears there’s been a major advance in operating desal plants.

Desalination of seawater is an established method to produce drinkable water but comes with huge energy costs. For the first time, researchers used fluorine-based nanostructures to successfully filter salt from water. Compared to current desalination methods, these fluorous nanochannels work faster, require less pressure and less energy, and are a more effective filter.

The study summary points out “if you’ve ever cooked with a nonstick Teflon-coated frying pan, then you’ve probably seen the way that wet ingredients slide around it easily. This happens because the key component of Teflon is fluorine, a lightweight element that is naturally water repelling, or hydrophobic. Teflon can also be used to line pipes to improve the flow of water. Such behavior caught the attention of Associate Professor Yoshimitsu Itoh from the Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology at the University of Tokyo and his team. It inspired them to explore how pipes or channels made from fluorine might operate on a very different scale, the nanoscale.”

Itoh explains, “There are two main ways to desalinate water currently: thermally, using heat to evaporate seawater so it condenses as pure water, or by reverse osmosis, which uses pressure to force water through a membrane that blocks salt. Both methods require a lot of energy, but our tests suggest fluorous nanochannels require little energy, and have other benefits too.”

The California Coastal Commission is a major obstacle in accepting workable solutions to California’s problematic water history. There’s an old saying that aptly describes the Commission’s decision-making process, at least in regards to desalination: You can come up with a thousand reasons not to do something, but you only need one reason to do it.


  1. Lindy Peters May 27, 2022

    I attended a League of California Cities convention last September in Sacramento where one of the sessions was on the drought here in California and what measures we need to take to combat the problem. When I asked about a Desal solution the idea was immediately dismissed by the State water expert on the panel. I almost walked out. It was as though my suggestion was ridiculous. How do you think Cruise Ships with 5,000 people aboard survive out there? They’re not packing giant canteens! Come on folks. Our future water source in California is our entire Western border. Get with it!

    • Mike Hart May 27, 2022

      Lindy is entirely correct. I have visited many successful desal projects around the world from forward thinking countries. Modern processes are nothing short of miraculous. The old “dead zone” issues from brine have been addressed by new processes. The issue to address is what kind of power is to be used for the process and can it come from renewable sources.

      The Coastal Cocktail Commission are a bunch of wealthy elites trying to control development through water policy. They like the views from their mansions and don’t want the little people ruining it. … they need to be abolished.

    • Michael Koepf May 27, 2022

      Lindy is correct. The sea’s an excellent resource. However, in California, control of water is power and the politicians and environmentalists desperately know it’s so.

  2. Chuck Artigues May 27, 2022

    Desal will offset sea leavel rise? Utter nonsense. Right now 80 percent of our water is used by agribusiness. They are not exporting food as much as they are exporting our water for their profit, at the expense of our shared environment.

    • Don Wright May 30, 2022

      What is your source that ag uses 80 percent of the water? What water? The developed water? All of the water in the state? Is the food you eat not grown with water? How does any business operate without a profit? Does Starbucks make coffee without water? Does Starbucks make a profit? Should we shut down agriculture, Starbucks and other companies that make a profit using water as a manufacturing input?

  3. Eric Sunswheat May 27, 2022


    RE: For the first time, researchers used fluorine-based nanostructures to successfully filter salt from water. Compared to current desalination methods, these fluorous nanochannels work faster, require less pressure and less energy, and are a more effective filter. (Jim Shields)

    ->. May 12, 2022
    …this is something we hope to improve upon in upcoming research. And, given the longevity of the membranes and their low operational costs, the overall energy costs will be much lower than with current methods,” said Itoh. “Other steps we wish to take are of course scaling this up.

    Our test samples were single nanochannels, but with the help of other specialists, we hope to create a membrane around 1 meter across in several years.

    In parallel with these manufacturing concerns, we’re also exploring whether similar membranes could be used to reduce carbon dioxide or other undesirable waste products released by industry.”

  4. Chris Gilbert May 29, 2022

    Desal takes incredible amounts of electricity to push that sea water through the various filters. We’re already struggling to get off of coal and gas that generate too much of our electricity. Diablo Canyon is coming offline; it supplies 20% of CA’s electricity. Desal also pollutes. Where do all the salts an other minerals go that are filtered out of sea water?

    We have more than enough water for California’s cities and environment. Where we don’t have enough water is for the excessive agriculture, esp in the Central Valley. I’m surprised that the ‘alma mater’ of Alex Cockburn seems to miss this fact. All the corporate agriculture in the Central Valley which uses so much CA water and puts so many billions into the pockets of the Resnicks and the hedge funds, exporting 80% of its most valuable crops including almonds out of the country, uses 80% of diverted water while the rest of us get 20%. Why not cut that back to 70 or 60 or 50%? We won’t need desal. Pushing for desal is just enabling the billions that are made off of our water. After all water in CA belongs to the public.

    • Don Wright May 30, 2022

      Where is your source that ag uses 80 percent of the diverted water? What if we cut it back to 40 percent? Then you’d be accurate about the current usage and I can supply sources for that number. Your turn.

      • Chris Gilbert May 30, 2022

        “More than nine million acres of farmland in California are irrigated, representing roughly 80% of all water used for businesses and homes.”

        It’s 40% of all CA water but half is not diverted and flows out through rivers to the ocean, i.e. is “environmental”

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