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Climate and Environment

A New Desalination Plant Will Help Fight The Drought In Orange County

An artistic rendering of the proposed ocean desalination plant in Dana Point, Calif.
A rendering of the ocean desalination plant proposed at Doheny State Beach.
(Courtesy of South Coast Water District)
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The California Coastal Commission unanimously approved an ocean desalination plant for Doheny State Beach — welcome news to south Orange County water managers who are staring down another likely year of drought and more water restrictions.

The project will be overseen by the South Coast Water District, which provides drinking water to about 35,000 people and 1,000 businesses in Dana Point, South Laguna Beach and parts of San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.

The project differs significantly from the plant proposed by private desalination company Poseidon in Huntington Beach, which was rejected earlier this year. That part of Orange County gets most of its water from one of the largest underground aquifers on the coast.

The southern part of Orange County, however, imports 90% of its water from northern California and the Colorado River, according to the South Coast Water District.

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The climate crisis is drying out those water sources, which is why millions of southern Californians are currently under outdoor watering restrictions.

The Doheny project has received little public resistance compared to the Huntington Beach project, which faced public outcry and lawsuits from environmental organizations.

Major differences highlighted by commissioners include:

  • The Doheny project will be run by a public agency instead of private corporation.
  • It will provide a new local source of water where it’s really needed and help alleviate stress on Northern California reservoirs and the Colorado River.
  • It’s designed to be far less harmful to marine life.

(You can read more about the differences here.)

Before their unanimous vote, commissioners emphasized the project isn't perfect, and that desalination should be a last resort, but that this particular project is well-planned and they hope it can be a "model" for doing ocean desalination right.

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