Thanks to new technology, San Diego residents will now be able to get clean drinking water from the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to new technology, San Diego residents will now be able to get clean drinking water from the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to new technology, San Diego residents will now be able to get clean drinking water from the Pacific Ocean. (Photo: View Apart / Shutterstock)

California's fresh water supply just received a massive new tap

The largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere will offer a clean water source for decades to come.

With a celebratory turn of the faucet earlier this month, officials in California transformed desalination from a buzzword into a major player in the effort to alleviate the drought crisis.

The state's new $1 billion Claude "Bud" Lewis Carslbad Desalination Plant in San Diego County will soon begin producing 50 million gallons of clean water daily from the Pacific Ocean. Built by Israel's IDE Technologies, the plant is the largest in the Western Hemisphere and is expected to provide reliable, clean drinking water for more than 400,000 households.

“IDE Technologies is thrilled to bring its experience designing and operating some of the world’s most advanced seawater desalination plants to the United States,” IDE Americas Inc. CEO Mark Lambert said in a statement. “With operations underway in Carlsbad, we are putting the ‘Pacific on tap’ for San Diego County, bolstering the region’s water reliability for decades to come.”

reverse osmosis desalinationReverse osmosis units, such as these inside an Israeli desalination plant, are the most efficient way to extract clean drinking water from the sea. (Photo: Asaf Eliason/Shutterstock)

Much like its facility in Israel, IDE's Carlsbad system in San Diego utilizes an efficient water treatment system called reverse osmosis. It will be the world's largest desalination plant outside of Tel Aviv, Israel.

Seawater pumped into the facility is squeezed under high pressure through a series of semi-permeable membranes. The process, requiring less energy than other desalination techniques, effectively "strains" the water of its salt and other minerals and creates clean drinking water. The salty by-product is then discharged back into the ocean, where it is quickly diluted.

To date, the Carlsbad plant has already squeezed more than two billion gallons of clean water out of the Pacific.

Dr. Raphael Semiat, a chemical engineer and desalination expert at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, told From The Grapevine that the Carlsbad plant will support a healthy portion of the local region's water needs. "When people will realize the quality of the water and that there are no real environmental issues, more and larger plants will be built in California."

True to Semiat's vision, IDE officials say they are in the planning stages to help build three additional desalination plants in California. The company, which also has water treatment facilities in Texas and Florida, has designed and supplied equipment for more than 400 desalination plants in 40 countries.

"Demand is going up all the time," CEO Avshalom Felber told Reuters. "Together with systems for wastewater reuse, desalination is becoming more necessary."

With Carlsbad raising the bar for desalination in the U.S., Felber is hopeful that the technology will prove its worth as part of the solution to securing a trusted and sustainable clean source of water.

"The Carlsbad Desalination Project is a significant milestone for us, California and the U.S. at large, as we believe it will set the stage for the future of desalination in America,” he said.

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