Think you can cheat water restrictions? This tiny disk will tame the thirstiest water hogs

A surfer heads out near the location of the proposed Doheny desalination plant to be built on SouthCoast Water District property, roughly 1,500 feet from the shoreline in Dana Point. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

June 7, 2022

But getting the desalination project past regulators will be a significant hurdle. The California Coastal Commission, the State Lands Commission, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Division of Drinking Water, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers are just some of the agencies that could be involved — as will the general public, which has historically been skeptical of desalination.

Tom Luster, an environmental scientist with the California Coastal Commission, said the concept shows promise but that he is looking forward to seeing more data. Two other companies, SeaWell and Oneka, are testing similar ideas using surface buoys and wave power, but OceanWell was the only one he knew of that wants to place pods on the ocean floor.

“There is a potential that it will have less of an effect on marine life than the shore-side facilities, but we just don’t know to what degree yet,” Luster said. “And then if there is an impact, how do you mitigate for something like that? How do you make up for the loss of deep-sea marine life? That will be a question we may need to answer.”

Evelyn, of the Sierra Club, shared similar reservations about the effects on marine life. The dark aphotic zone is home to plankton and other organisms that could potentially get trapped in filters or experience long-term effects from the brine. “I need to see the numbers and I need to see the science,” she said.

She noted that while the process is less energy-intensive than that of facilities on land, it will still require some amount of energy to push the freshwater from the deep ocean back onto the shore, and to transport it to its final destination. She said conservation, water recycling and stormwater capture are all strategies that should be tried first.