Amidst Our Constant Rain, California Desalinates

I remember a friend of my sisters who farmed in Arizona laughing when we showed him our rain collecting tank. “With so much rain here, why would you possibly need that?” he laughed. We felt like we were doing ‘the right thing’ but the fact is our east coast water table is plenty full, unlike California’s which is sucked so dry by thirsty crops like cotton and sugar.

After listening to relentless rain last night and over the past month, I read with interest about California’s opposite problem, and how Governor Schwartzenegger has declared that water is the next big topic after the state fixes its budget problems. A story in the WSJ by Sabrina Shankman pictured Claude Lewis, the mayor of Carlsbad standing next to a seaside power plant. The plant next year will become the largest desalination facility in the Western Hemisphere, a foreshadow of many more plants to come as we come to grips with the shortage of fresh water.

In Saudi Arabia and North Africa, there are many plants like this. They shoot seawater through membranes at high pressure to create fresh water. Opponents don’t like the fact that the giant intake pipes suck in lots of things besides water, like fish, crabs and other sea life. But nobody disputes that California has to find better sources of water than the dwindling Colorado and Sacramento rivers. To many, even expensive desalination is worth the big investment.