California's Costly Solution to Make the Ocean Drinkable

It's really expensive to take the salt out of saltwater.

Can Seawater Desalination Solve California's Drought?

San Diego County is in a drought. San Diego County sits next to the Pacific Ocean, which contains 187 quintillion (that’s 187,000,000,000,000,000,000) gallons of cool, fresh, completely undrinkable water.

This vexes San Diego County, vexes them enough to build a $1 billion (that's only $1,000,000,000) state-of-the-art desalination plant that will filter out the salt and provide up to 50 million gallons of drinking water a day.

It’s a new approach to the boom-bust past of water availability in Southern California. The county is no longer sure it can rely on water from other sources and municipalities, and wants—needs—to develop local supplies of its own. Desalination, which critics say is inefficient and damaging to ocean life, is the newest tool in the county’s hydrating toolbox.

While the new Carlsbad desalination plant will contribute only about 10 percent of San Diego County’s drinking-water supply, it’s part of a movement in California and other water-starved areas to find water in places (the ocean, the sewers) that previously were overlooked. More desalination plants are being proposed. If the plans succeed, they could convert the Pacific from a really nice thing to look at into a vital natural resource. 

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