Commission Approves Construction and Operation of Long Beach Prototype Desalination Facility

Aug. 8, 2003

After a lengthy discussion on issues associated with seawater desalination including concerns related to privately owned desalination facilities, the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to approve the Long Beach Water Department's project at its meeting Thursday in Huntington Beach, Calif. The Commission found the project consistent with the relevant policies of the City's Local Coastal Plan (LCP), as well as the California Coastal Act.

The project, a 300,000-gallon-per-day seawater desalination research and development facility, is located within the jurisdiction of both the City of Long Beach and the California Coastal Commission, requiring a coastal development permit (CDP) from each. On May 1, 2003, the City of Long Beach issued a CDP for the project, which was appealed to the Coastal Commission. On July 11, 2003, the Coastal Commission found that the appeal raised substantial issue with regards to the CDP's conformity to the Coastal Act. As a condition of approval, Water Department officials agreed to several changes to minimize any adverse effects on coastal resources.

"The Long Beach project will produce the kind of data needed to review feasibility of future California desalination projects," stated Jonas Minton, Deputy Director of the California Department of Water Resource and Chairman of the statewide Desalination Task Force, who was present for the hearing. Debra Cook, Huntington Beach Council Member and also a member of the state-wide Desalination Task Force, but speaking as a private citizen before the Commission, stated, "This is one that deserves the Commission's support. It's time to take a hard look at the many unanswered questions related to seawater desalination."

"We believe that energy consumption and environmental impact are the largest impediments to desalinating seawater," stated Kevin L. Wattier, General Manager of the Long Beach Water Department. "Our facility specifically tests a process that we feel can significantly reduce these impediments. We are elated with the Coastal Commission's decision."

The Long Beach Water Department currently operates a Desalination pilot plant that uses a unique membrane technology, developed by Department engineers, to desalinate seawater. The technology is 20 to 30 percent more energy efficient than traditional desalination methods.

This technology, among other things, will be tested further in a larger scale prototype seawater desalination research and development facility, in partnership with the United States Bureau of Reclamation and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Total project cost is $5.4 million.

The Long Beach project is the largest federally authorized seawater desalination research and development project in the nation.

Source: Long Beach Water Department