A local water district is proposing an ambitious plan to turn ocean water into drinking water, and while the idea of a “Blue Water Farm” sounds promising, some environmental groups say that ocean desalination should be a last resort and that more can be done to conserve water in affluent communities.
Over the last two years, customers of the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (LVMWD) have seen restrictions and fines over how much water they use.
“The reason for that is because we have one singular source of water, which is the [California] State Water Project,” LVMWD Communications Manager Mike McNutt told KTLA.
McNutt added that the water district is exploring new ways to keep lawns lush and green in big-money neighborhoods like Calabasas, Westlake Village and Hidden Hills.
“What we promised our customers is to look into desalination as a viable option for us to bring in more water to the district,” he said.
Officials are hoping that they can bring in precisely 10 million gallons of fresh water a day to the district.
The water district has partnered with a company called Ocean Well to use the Las Virgenes Reservoir to test desalination pods before potentially setting up the cylinders miles off the coast of California.
“We are a very forward-thinking water agency where we put environmental-first concepts and thoughts before really anything,” McNutt said.
According to Ocean Well, the deep-sea pods use up to 40% less energy than traditional desalination plants by using natural energy from the ocean pressure to filtrate water. Additionally, the company says the pods will produce very little brine or byproduct that will harm marine life.
Charming Evelyn, with the Sierra Club California, an organization dedicated to protecting the environment and combating climate change, said the new technology has potential but believes seafloor desalination should be viewed as a last resort.
In a statement to KTLA, Evelyn wrote:
“It’s new innovative technology and we were one of the first to endorse on record and support Las Virgenes MWD with their pilot Pure Water Facility many years ago. However, ocean desalination should be of the last resort. We do understand that Las Virgenes imports most of its water, but they also have some of the highest water users. We’d like to see them get their clientele down to the state requirement of using 55 gallons of water per day per person indoors.
Las Virgenes is already working on recycled water with their Pure Water Facility and the state is working on regulations for Direct Potable Reuse, which is a game changer in water resilience and sustainability. We would like to see more water conservation, more rebates for renters, who make up 60% of the population and purchase appliances – currently most rebates only go to homeowners. Implementation of graywater systems, they are legal in the state of CA, water cisterns and rain barrels use and stormwater capture.
Infrastructure repair (leaks) and earthquake retrofitting and last but not least an avenue where renters can file complaints against landlords who refuse to fix issues, such as toilet/faucet leaks and irrigation spigots, that waste a lot of water.”
McNutt said he agrees with the idea that seafloor desalination should only be used as a last resort option.
“We are at that point at this point and time with the issues, the environmental and water issues that we see throughout the state of California,” he said.
For those wondering when the Blue Water Farm will be completed, there is testing that needs to be done first before the seafloor pumps, pipes and pods can be built. The project would also require state approval, which could take a substantial amount of time.