Among some notable projects that have been approved are:
By Bovlb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]
$1 billion plant − the largest ever attempted in the U.S. − with taxpayer-backed bond financing at Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad. The plant has never been able to produce the water it promised, and it has been issued several notices of violation for discharges into the ocean.
As San Diego Water Authority signed take-or-pay contract, they must buy the water whether they need it or not, so after the 2023 super wet winter, San Diegans cannot use cheap rainwater, instead, they must buy expensive, polluting desalted water from a private corporation.
Today, Catalina has two desalination plants that strip salt from seawater, providing up to 230,400 gallons per day—roughly 40% of the island’s drinking water. Diesel and kerosene are shipped to the island to operate the desalination plants, the water rate for Catalina is $9,200 an acre foot for the top tier.
An agreement between Montecito and the City of Santa Barbara, Montecito will pay off nearly half the cost of the city’s $72 million desalination plant on the waterfront in return for a guaranteed yearly supply of potable city water from any source for the next 50 years.
At 270 gallons of water per person per day, the residential water use in the Montecito Water District, encompassing a population of 11,800 people in Montecito, Summerland and Toro Canyon, is among the highest in the state. Only about 15% of the district’s water supply is used indoors and winds up in the sewers; 85% goes on lawns and landscaping and can’t be recycled.
In October 2022, the California Coastal Commission approved the Doheny Ocean Desalination project in Dana Point. The average use in South Orange County is 142 gallons per person per day, one of the highest in California. The state has passed a bill that will mandate water agencies to implement efficiency to ensure consumption is an average of 42 gallons per person per day by 2030, so the approval of this boondoggle is particularly egregious and not needed. By the time the desalination plant is built, most residents will have cut down consumption by two thirds, but the impact to ratepayers, the ocean and the climate will be profound and irreversible.
Approved and being appealed:
Monterey – California American Water (Private)
Despite proven environmental justice impacts, the California Coastal Commission approved this boondoggle by an 8-to-2 vote in November 2022. In addition, the Coastal Commission staff warned that the plant would require overriding parts of the state’s Coastal Act and would have “substantial impacts” to sensitive habitat areas for threatened and endangered species such as the Western snowy plover, which nests in dunes there. Desalting colder water is even more energy intensive and the price tag for this water is estimated to be $6,000 an acre foot, an estimated 50% increase in water rates that will “disproportionately burden low-income ratepayers in the service area and residents in the City of Marina,” according to commission staff.
A $1.4 billion plant that would have been as big as the Carlsbad plant in San Diego, also financed with public money for private profit with a 35-year+ take-or-pay contract. The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to deny the permit on May 12, 2022.