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Key Issues in Seawater Desalination in California: December 11, Authors: Heather Cooley, Newsha Ajami, Matthew Heberger Desalination, like other major industrial processes, has environmental impacts that must be understood and mitigated.
The highly concentrated brine is then typically disposed of back into the ocean.
With the majority of desalination plants extracting water directly through open water intakes in the ocean, there is a direct impact on marine life. Fish and other marine organisms are killed on the intake screens impingement ; organisms small enough to pass through, such as plankton, fish eggs, and larvae, are killed during processing of the salt water entrainment.
The impacts on the marine environment, even for a single desalination plant, may be subject to daily, seasonal, annual, and even decadal variation, and are likely to be species- and site-specific. These impacts, however, are not well understood.
More research is needed, especially to understand the long-term impacts. We do, however, know that there are several operational, design, and technological measures available to reduce the marine impacts of open water intakes.
In particular, subsurface intakes can virtually eliminate impingement and entrainment, as they extract seawater from beneath the seafloor or a beach. The sand acts as a natural filter, providing a level of pre-filtration that can reduce plant chemical and energy use and long-term operating costs.
Another major environmental challenge of desalination is the disposal of the highly concentrated salt brine that contains other chemicals used throughout the process. Because all large coastal seawater desalination plants discharge brine into oceans and estuaries, including all of the proposed plants in California, steps must be taken to ensure its safe disposal; at this stage, we know very little about the long-term impacts of brine disposal on the marine environment.
Twice as saline as the ocean, the brine is denser than the waters into which it is discharged and tends to sink and slowly spread along the ocean floor, where there is typically little wave energy to mix it. There are several proven methods to disperse concentrated brine, such as multi-port diffusers placed on the discharge pipe to promote mixing.
Brine can also be diluted with effluent from a wastewater treatment plant or with cooling water from a power plant or other industrial user, although these approaches have their own drawbacks that must be addressed.
Researchers conducted some 25 one-on-one interviews with industry experts, environmental and community groups, and staff of water agencies and regulatory agencies to identify key outstanding issues for seawater desalination projects in California.Desalination, like other major industrial processes, has environmental impacts that must be understood and mitigated.
A new report from the Pacific Institute examines effects on the marine environment associated with the construction and long-term operation of seawater desalination plants, including withdrawing water from the ocean and .
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