Environment & Science

California plant to convert salt water to fresh water approved

People take in the view from the front of a boat in the Pacific Ocean.
People take in the view from the front of a boat in the Pacific Ocean.

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Seawater could become drinking water at a Huntington Beach plant within a few years. State water regulators at a meeting in Loma Linda on Friday approved a permit for the new facility.

The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board voted to push forward plans for a plant that will convert about 50 million gallons of ocean water into drinking water every day.

That’s enough to supply at least a quarter of a million people in Orange County with fresh water.

Roughly 70 percent of the earth's surface is covered in water, yet only 0.3 percent is both fresh and available for human consumption.

A Connecticut-based firm proposed the desalination system and developers would build it on a 12-acre site near a coastal power plant. They say the facility will be the largest of its kind in the western hemisphere.

Its price tag is about $350 million, but the plant’s operators say taxpayers won’t have to pay for it.

Most area businesses, water agencies and lawmakers support the plan, maintaining that it’s an affordable way to provide a safe and reliable water supply.

However, some environmentalists contend that the system could kill fish and other sea life, since a state regulation that prohibits the use of seawater to cool power plants wouldn't apply to a desalination plant.

A report by the U.S. General Accounting Office predicts that 36 states will face water shortages by 2013... and McKinsey & Co. forecasts that global demand for fresh water will outstrip supply by 40 percent in 2030.