Oct. 13, 2022
However, Evelyn commended the company for reaching out to the Sierra Club and other environmental groups over the last year, and for taking their feedback and concerns into account while developing the technology.
“I am happy to see that there is new technology and there is less harm to marine life, and that the energy output can be less — I am happy for all of those things,” Evelyn said. “But the other side of me always thinks about the fact that when you pull one string in nature, everything is connected. And I do have concerns about how does this affect us 50, 60, 100 years from now.”
Donovan, of GHD, added that while the aphotic zone may have less marine life, the water there is colder so it could require a bit more energy to drive it through the membrane than warmer waters. “But I think all in all, they’re getting some net benefits by being deep and out in that aphotic zone,” he said.
It could be several years before the project makes it to the sea floor. The partnership with Las Virgenes will allow OceanWell to “stress test” the technology’s capabilities in the reservoir and collect more data, Simon said. The current goal is to be fully operational by 2028, producing an estimated 10 million gallons of freshwater per day.
By comparison, the Carlsbad desalination plant in San Diego County produces 50 million gallons per day, or about 10% of the county’s supply of water. The Doheny desalination plant, approved by the Coastal Commission last year, will produce about 5 million gallons per day in Orange County when it is completed around 2027.
Luster, of the Coastal Commission, said large-scale, open ocean intake projects will continue to have a hard time getting state approval because of their high energy costs and the environmental damage they can cause. The commission last year rejected plans for the proposed Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach due to those and other concerns.
Smaller-scale off-shore systems, such as OceanWell’s, could potentially benefit from a more streamlined approval process if they’re proven to work, Luster said. And while he does not consider desalination a silver bullet for all of the state’s water woes, he said it could play a small part in California’s portfolio moving forward.
“If they can provide water in coastal areas, that frees up water for inland areas,” he said. “And that in and of itself is going to be a good contribution to the state.”