Category Archives: Water Resources

Status of Desalination Plants in California

Peter Lobner

1. Introduction

This article is an update to a similar article I wrote in mid-2015. At that time, California was experiencing a persistent drought and surface water resources and aquifers were being strained by high demand. At that time, there were only five desalination plants operating in California:  

  • Diablo Canyon NPP (seawater) desalination plant in San Luis Obispo county
  • Cambria Community Services District (brackish water) desalination plant in San Luis Obispo county
  • Sand City Coastal (brackish seawater) Desalination Plant in Monterey County 
  • WRD Robert W. Goldsworthy Desalter in Torrance
  • Southern California Edison (seawater) desalination plant on Catalina Island

At that time, several other desalination plants in California were in various stages of development, ranging from construction to reactivation to planning / permitting. This article provides a brief overview of the status of these Caliifornia plants, and more recent desalination projects in the planning stage in late-2023.

2. California desalination plants in operation in mid-2015

Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant (NPP) desalination plant

In a 9 June 2015 article, Forbes reported on the Diablo Canyon NPP, located on the Pacific coast near San Luis Obispo, CA, and noted that the plant could meet 100% of its own fresh water needs with an onsite reverse osmosis (RO) + ultrafiltration desalination plant that draws seawater from the ocean. At that time, this was the largest desalinization plant operating on the U.S. West coast. The plant has a maximum fresh water production capacity of 1,500,000 gallons/day (1,681 acre-feet/year).

Diablo Canyon NPP. Source: PGE

Desalination plant at Diablo Canyon NPP. Source: PGE

The Forbes article suggested that the Diablo Canyon NPP would be able to help nearby communities that currently were experiencing water shortages during a persistent drought. With additional modular RO units and a pipeline to connect to the public water system, up to 825,000 gallons/day (925 acre-feet/year) fresh water could be delivered for public consumption.

For more information on the Diablo Canyon NPP desalination plant:

Cambria Community Services District desalination plant 

Also in San Luis Obispo county, this desalination plant began operating in early 2015, providing 223,000 gallons/day (250 acre-feet/year), about 35% of the town’s fresh water needs. The process itself runs a brackish water (mix of freshwater, estuary water, and highly treated sewage wastewater) through three stages of osmosis, eventually injecting treated water into the San Simeon and Santa Rosa Creek aquifers to supply the community with additional potable water. This project makes Cambria one of the first communities in California to recycle sewage wastewater into an eventual drinking-water source.

For more information on the Cambria Community Services District desalination plant:

Sand City Coastal desalination plant

Sand City Coastal Desalination Plant in Monterey County was the first full-scale brackish seawater desalination facility in the state of California.  It became operational in May 2010 and can produce 268,000 gallons/day (300 acre-feet/year).

For more information on the Sand City Coastal desalination plant:

WRD Robert W. Goldsworthy Desalter in Torrance

The Goldsworthy Desalter ( is a reverse osmosis system commissioned in 2001, and expanded in 2018, to treat 5,000,000 gallons per day of brackish water drawn from the West Coast Groundwater Basin under the City of Torrance and produce potable water for the city water system. The Desalter produces about 30% of the fresh water used by Torrance residents and businesses. The plant is owned by the Water Replenishment District (WRD) and operated by the City of Torrance. 

For more information on the Goldsworthy Desalter:

Southern California Edison (SCE) desalination plant on Catalina Island

SCE’s seawater desalination plant on Catalina Island has operated since the 1990s. It can produce 200,000 gallons/day (224 acre-feet/year). During winter months, the water produced by this desalination plant is enough to meet Avalon’s needs. During the summer, the water demand increases to 400,000-500,000 gallons a day, and up to 800,000 gallons a day on peak weekend days.

A second desalination unit, built in partnership with the city of Avalon and Los Angeles County, became operational on December 2015. The new desalination unit is connected to SCE’s original desalination plant and can produce an additional 150,000 gallons of water a day (168 acre-feet/year). 

For more information on the SCE desalination plant on Catalina Island:

3. New desalination capacity in California since 2015

Since mid-2015, two additional desalination plants have been placed in operation in California:

  • Poseidon Resources Corp. Claude “Bud” Lewis desalination plant, Carlsbad, CA
  • City of Santa Barbara’s Charles E. Meyer desalination plant

Poseidon Resources Corp. Claude “Bud” Lewis desalination plant, Carlsbad, CA

The Poseidon Resources Corp. seawater desalination plant in Carlsbad, CA, ( was completed in November 2015. It was officially dedicated and renamed in honor of former Carlsbad Mayor, Claude “Bud” Lewis, on 14 December 2015, in a public ceremony attended by more than 600 elected officials, community leaders and project partners. A 30-year Water Purchase Agreement is in place between the San Diego County Water Authority and Poseidon Water for the entire output of the plant, which has a design capacity of 50,000,000 gallons/day (56,050 acre-feet/year).  This plant is providing about 10% of San Diego county’s fresh water needs. It currently is the largest sea water desalination plant in the western hemisphere. 

Claude “Bud” Lewis desalination plant in Carlsbad, CA.  Source: screenshot from Dudek video, 2021

For more information on the Claude “Bud” Lewis desalination plant, Carlsbad, CA

City of Santa Barbara’s Charles E. Meyer desalination plant

The city-owned Charles E. Meyer desalination plant in Santa Barbara ( was completed in 1992 and then mothballed after a short test period. In July 2015, the City Council voted unanimously to reactivate this plant, which has a licensed capacity is 6,691,0000 gallons/day (7,500 acre-feet/year) and can meet about 30% of the city’s fresh water needs. In May 2017, the startup testing at the plant was completed and the City started distributing desalinated water into the City’s water system. 

Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant in Santa Barbara, 2019. Source: Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources

For more information on the Charles E. Meyer desalination plant:

4. Other desalination projects planned in California in mid-2015

In mid-2015, several other desalination projects were in the planning stage, including:

  • Doheny Ocean desalination project in south Orange County
  • California American Water (Cal-Am) desalination project in Marina, CA
  • Poseidon Resources Corp. desalination project in Huntington Beach
  • Deepwater Desal project at Moss Landing

Since then, some have advanced while others have been withdrawn.  Here’s a brief summary of their current status.

Doheny Ocean Desalination Project in south Orange County – approved, under construction

This coastal seawater desalination plant has a design capacity of 15,000,000 gallons/day (16,816 acre-feet/year). The project was unanimously approved by the California Coastal Commission in September 2022. The completion date has slipped from 2020 (original estimate in 2015) to late 2028 or early 2029. 

Artist’s rendering of the desalination plant proposed for Doheny Beach. Source: South Coast Water District

For more information on the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project

California American Water (Cal-Am) desalination project in Marina, CA – approved, pre-construction

This seawater distillation plant project was approved by the California Coastal Commission on 17 November 2022 at a capacity of 4,800,000 gallons/day (5,380 acre-feet/year). Cal-Am ( plans to have the plant operating by the end of 2027. 

For more information on the Cal-Am Marina desalination project:

Poseidon Resources Corp. seawater desalination project, Huntington Beach, CA – withdrawn

This project was in the final phase of permitting and originally was expected to be completed in 2018, with a capacity of 50,000,000 gallons/day. The project was withdrawn in February 2023.

For more information on the Huntington Beach desalination project:

DeepWater Desal project at Moss Landing – withdrawn

DeepWater Desal ( originally proposed to build a 8,922,000 gallons/day (10,000 acre-feet/year) seawater desalination plant that would draw water from the Pacific Ocean through an existing underwater pipeline that, in the 1940s,  was used to move diesel oil from offshore ships to what is now the gas-fired Dynegy Power Plant.  The pipeline has been unused for decades. On 4 June 2021, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that it was terminating the NEPA process and closing the Project’s permit application because the permit applicant (DeepWater Desal) notified NOAA in May 2020 that the primary scope of the Project changed from desalination to land-based aquaculture.

For more information on the DeepWater Desal project:

The People’s Moss Landing Desalination Project – no significant progress

In 2013, the Moss Landing Commercial Business park, LLC proposed to build a 11,950,0000 gallons/day (13,400 acre-feet/year) saltwater desalination plant using an existing subsurface harbor water intake and pumping station built by Henry Kaiser in the 1950s. A Notice of Preparation of a Draft EIR was filed in June 2015. However, in 2023, it appears that the project is not moving forward.

For more information on the People’s Moss Landing Desal project:

Armstrong Ranch brackish water desalination plant, Marina Coast, CA – no significant progress

Seawater intrusion into the aquifer underlying the Marina Coast area is aggravated by extensive groundwater pumping for local agriculture and residents in marina and Fort Ord. The Armstrong Ranch property, which occupies both sides of Highway 1, sits atop aquifers that are impacted by seawater intrusion. A deep aquifer of clean fresh water underlying the area also is being heavily pumped.

A brackish water desalination plant was proposed for Armstrong Ranch, with a design capacity of 2,409,000 gallons/day (2,700 acre-feet/year). One proposal suggested that 150 acres of the Armstrong Ranch parcel could host enough solar panels to both power the desalination plant and sell back surplus power to the grid.

It appears that there has been no significant action in developing this desalination plant.

For more information on the Armstrong Ranch / Marina Coast desal project:

5. More recent desalination projects planned in California 

In April 2023, California Department of Water Resources announced that the following three projects has been selected under the Water Grant Desalination Program for funding:

  • Water Replenishment District (WRD) of Southern California Construction Project: In Los Angeles County, a project in the City of Torrance will construct a conveyance pipeline to connect an existing well to the existing WRD Robert W. Goldsworthy Desalter system and install a self-cleaning auto-strainer. The project will reduce the community’s reliance on imported water, provide a sustainable local potable water supply, and increase desalinated water production by 1,070,667 gallons/day (1,120-acre feet per year) or approximately enough water for 2,200 households. 
  • Westlands Water District Design Pilot Project: In Fresno County, the project will desalinate brackish groundwater from the westside upper aquifer and use salt-tolerant plants to remove salts from the brine. The project will provide cost-effective, reliable and high-quality water to the district and the communities of Coalinga, Huron and Avenal.
  • City of Fort Bragg Design Pilot Project: Near the City of Fort Bragg, the project will install an innovative, wave-powered, seawater desalination iceberg buoy to provide potable water to residents. The project will diversify the city’s water supply portfolio, create a locally controlled, sustainable, and carbon-free potable water supply, produce water without grid electricity, and strengthen water resiliency during future droughts.

First-ever Lower Colorado River Basin Water Shortage Declaration

Peter Lobner, updated 17 September 2011

At its maximum capacity, Lake Mead water level is at an elevation of 1,220 feet (372 meters) at the Hoover Dam and holds 9.3 trillion gallons (36 trillion liters) of water. It was last at its maximum capacity in 2000 and has been declining since then as shown in the following graph.

Source: Universe Today, data via US Bureau of Reclamation & NASA

In my 18 June 2021 post, I discussed the Lake Mead water supply for Las Vegas and the alarming trend of decreasing water level in Lake Mead as a result of the persistent drought in the watershed for the Colorado River. 

In July, the Bureau of Reclamation began releasing additional water from reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell (which is upstream of Lake Mead) in an attempt to stabilize the lake level and maintain hydropower generation at the Glen Canyon dam (which forms Lake Powell). 

The following chart shows that the Lake Mead water level was at 1,067.72 feet on 17 August 2021, more than seven feet below the 1,075 foot threshold for triggering a water shortage declaration.  The lake level appears to have temporarily stabilized, possibly benefiting from the increased releases into upstream Lake Powell.

Source: Universe Today, data via US Bureau of Reclamation & NASA

On 16 August 2021, the Bureau of Reclamation issued their much anticipated projection of 2022 operating conditions for Lake Powell and Lake Mead. They reported: 

“Given ongoing historic drought and low runoff conditions in the Colorado River Basin, downstream releases from Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam will be reduced in 2022 due to declining reservoir levels. In the Lower Basin the reductions represent the first “shortage” declaration—demonstrating the severity of the drought and low reservoir conditions.”

The planned actions in response to this first-ever shortage declaration take effect on 1 January 2022, as described in the Bureau’s news release here:

In summary, the following cuts in Colorado River water allocations are expected:

  • Arizona:  Loses 18% of the state’s annual apportionment
  • Nevada:  Loses 7% of the state’s annual apportionment
  • Mexico:  Loses about 5% of the country’s annual allotment

California has more senior water rights than Arizona and Nevada and will be spared immediate cutbacks when they are implemented on 1 January 2022.

Additional cuts in water allocations will be triggered if Lake Mead water level continues to decline to the following thresholds:  1,050 feet, 1,045 feet, and 1,025 feet.

Let’s pray for a lot of wet weather in the US southwest.

For more information

Las Vegas Made a Good Bet on the Third Straw

Peter Lobner

Las Vegas relies on Lake Mead for 90% of its water needs. Currently, water from Lake Mead can be supplied to Las Vegas by three intakes at different levels in the lake.  The newest, and deepest, is known as the “third straw” intake (IPS-3), which taps into the lake at 860 feet above sea level. That’s 190 feet below the highest existing intake, IPS-1, at 1,050 feet.

The operation of this three-intake system is explained in Southern Nevada Water Authority’s (SNWA) short video, “How does the SNWA’s Low Lake Level Pumping Station protect our drinking water supply?” at the following link:

You’ll find Lake Mead current water level and historical water level data here:

On 18 June 2021, the lake level was 1,070.43 feet MSL at 5:00 PM.  This is 158.57 feet below the “full pool” level of 1,229.00 feet and is only 20.43 feet above the highest (IPS-1) intake.


On 10 June 2021, Lake Mead water level was 1,071.51 at 7:00 AM and was about 36% full.  The lake had not been this low since July 2016.  Using just the 10 June and 18 June data points, lake water level currently is decreasing at about 1.5 inches per day.

Runoff from the Rocky Mountain snowpack is essentially over this year, so water level is expected to continue declining until the start of the next rainy season in November.

The first-ever official federal water shortage declaration is expected in August 2021, when the Bureau of Reclamation issues its regularly scheduled long-term water level projection.  A Level 1 declaration would be implemented in January 2022 under agreements negotiated with seven states that rely on Colorado River water: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Water from the Colorado River serves 40 million people in these states and Mexico.

Let’s pray for a lot of wet weather in the US southwest.

For more information

The Science Behind ATOMIK Vodka

Peter Lobner

Source:  The Chernobyl Spirit Company

This is a radioactivity-free vodka produced by The Chernobyl Spirit Company from grain and water in Chernobyl’s abandoned zone. The website for ATOMIK vodka is at the following link:

While this product has been widely reported in that past few days, the website offers the following notice:

“WARNING: Sorry, but we’ve only got one experimental bottle of ATOMIK so far, so we can’t sell you anything yet. But if you want to find out more about what we’re trying to do please carry on reading.”

The website is quite interesting and I encourage you to take the time to visit the site.  Following is a summary of some key points from the website and a supporting technical paper.


The members of the ATOMIK vodka technical team are: 

  • Jim Smith, Professor of Environmental Science at Portsmouth University, UK
  • Gennady Laptev, Head of the Radiometric Laboratory at the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute
  • Kyrylo Korychensky, a geologist and radiochemist currently completing his PhD at the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute. Kyrylo’s family has long experience of distillation and he is the Master Distiller of ATOMIK grain spirit.

The team explained their basis for creating ATOMIK vodka. 

“Our group of Ukrainian and UK scientists has been studying the transfer of radioactivity to crops both in the main Exclusion Zone (CEZ) and in the Narodychi District within the Zone of Obligatory Resettlement, where land can’t officially be used for agriculture, but people still live.​

The research shows that in many areas land could now be used to produce crops, which are safe to eat. As every chemist knows, distillation of fermented grain leaves many heavier elements in the waste product so the distillate alcohol is more radioactively “pure” than the original grain. We have used distillation to reduce radioactivity in the grain even further to make a product from Chernobyl which we hope people will want to consume.”

The ATOMIK vodka product

The ATOMIK website contains the following description of the product.

“ATOMIK is a grain spirit (or “moonshine”), a homemade vodka made by people in villages all over Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and Russia since about the twelfth century. 

Grain spirit has more flavour compounds than vodka – by double-distilling and filtering, we are trying to produce a grain spirit which keeps the flavour and character of homemade vodka (“samogon”) but isn’t quite as rough around the edges. We dilute our distillate with a mineral water from the deep aquifer  below the town of Chernobyl about 10 km south of the nuclear power station. It is pure and of high quality, having characteristics of a typical limestone aquifer such as that found in the South of England or the Champagne region of France. We’re currently trying to work out exactly how many thousands of years old this water is but it definitely wasn’t anywhere near the surface in 1986.”

The distillate alcohol experiment

On the Atomic vodka website, the technical team reported on their radiochemical analysis of ATOMIK:

“We have been doing studies to see how much radioactivity transfers from soil to crops in the Chernobyl abandoned areas more than 30 years after the accident. We found that, at our site in the main exclusion zone, radiocaesium in rye was below the (quite cautious) Ukrainian limit but that radiostrontium was a bit above the limit. But when we made ATOMIK grain spirit from the grain, we could find no Chernobyl-derived radioactivity in the distilled alcohol.

The water used to dilute the distillate to 40% alcohol is a mineral water from the deep aquifer  below the town of Chernobyl about 10 km south of the nuclear power station​

The laboratories of The Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute and the University of Southampton GAU-Radioanalytical could find no trace of Chernobyl radioactivity in ATOMIK grain spirit. Out of scientific curiosity we’re going to try even more sensitive analytical methods to see if we can find something – nothing on Earth is completely free of radioactivity.”

The August 2019 technical report, “Distillate ethanol production for re-use of abandoned lands – an analysis and risk assessment,” by Jim Smith, Gennady Laptev, et al., shows the location of the experimental plot for ATOMIK grain harvesting relative to the areas around the Chernobyl site that were contaminated by Cs-137.  The site is in an area that received a relatively low level of Cs-137 contamination.

Source: J. Smith, G. Laptev, et al., 2019

This report summarizes the results of the analysis as follows:

  • The rye grain had elevated levels of Cs-137 and Sr-90, but Pu and Am isotopes were below detection limits. The Sr-90 activity was slightly above the Ukrainian limit of 20 Bq kg-1.
  • There were no artificial radionuclides observed in the distillate ethanol (diluted to 40% with Chernobyl Town groundwater) sample. 
  • The low energy beta analysis recorded an estimated 58 Bq/L, which we attribute to natural C-14 consistent with the expected activity concentration of natural C-14 in ethanol at this dilution.

It seems that ATOMIK is as safe to drink as any comparable grain spirit.

You can read the complete paper here:

When The Chernobyl Spirit Companyis able to offer ATOMIK for sale, a key market will be the increasing number of tourists who now visit the Chernobyl exclusion zone.  The Chernobyl Spirit Companyhas stated that at least 75% of profits from sales of ATOMIK will go to supporting communities in the affected areas and wildlife conservation.

While you can use the toast ‘na zdorovya’ in Ukraine, a more traditional Ukrainian toast is ‘budmo’ (cheers). When you hear the toast ‘budmo,’ reply back with a hearty ‘hey’! Keep that toast and reply cycle going and the evening will go by very quickly.

Best wishes for success to the The Chernobyl Spirit Company. I’m looking forward the day when I can get a bottle of ATOMIK at my local liquor store.

U.S. Drought Indicators Derived From GRACE Satellite Data

Peter Lobner

Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center generate groundwater and soil moisture drought indicators each week. They are based on terrestrial water storage observations derived from GRACE satellite data and integrated with other observations, using a sophisticated numerical model of land surface water and energy processes. You can see current results for the continental U.S. at the following link to the National Drought Mitigation Center (NMDC), University of Nebraska-Lincoln, website:

Drought indicator maps for 6 July 2015 are reproduced below for:

  • Surface soil moisture
  • Root zone soil moisture
  • Shallow groundwater

The drought in the U.S. West looks most severe in the shallow groundwater map.

You can find information on the twin GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellites at the following link:




Bacteria Could Help Clean Groundwater Contaminated With Uranium

Peter Lobner

On 15 June 2015, Rutgers University announced the discovery in uranium-contaminated groundwater of bacteria that can breathe uranium and employ it in a reduction chemical reaction that immobilizes the uranium and thereby removes it from solution in the groundwater. Professor Lee Kerkhof, in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, leads the Rutgers team that is working with U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) researchers on this project.

The bacteria were discovered in soil at an old uranium ore mill site in Rifle, Colorado, almost 200 miles west of Denver. The bacteria of interest are from a common class known as betaproteobacteria.

Rifle CO uranium mill siteThe Rifle, CO site today. Source:

The Rutgers University announcement states:

 “This bacterium can breathe either oxygen or uranium to drive the chemical reactions that provide life-giving energy”.

 “Exactly how the strain evolved, Kerkhof said, ‘we are not sure.’ But, he explained, bacteria have the ability to pass genes to each other. So just like bacteria pick up resistance to things like antibiotics and heavy metal toxicity, this bacterium ‘picked up a genetic element that’s now allowing it to detoxify uranium, to actually grow on uranium.’ “

You can read the Rutgers University announcement at the following link:

You can read the April 2015 Rutgers paper, Spatial Distribution of an Uranium-Respiring Betaproteobacterium at the Rifle, CO Field Research Site, at the following link:

An earlier paper published in October 2011, entitled, Influence of Uranium on Bacterial Communities: A Comparison of Natural Uranium-Rich Soils with Controls, identified Acidobacteria, Proteobacteria, and seven others phyla in uraniferous samples. This French study, supported by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, concluded that:

 “…our results demonstrate that uranium exerts a permanent high pressure on soil bacterial communities and suggest the existence of a uranium redox cycle mediated by bacteria in the soil.”

You can read the paper written by the French team at the following link: