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.