Overview of Long Beach Seawater Desalination Project

In the future, Long Beach Water's water supply reliability portfolio will resemble that of an experienced investor's: smart, balanced and productive.  Increased implementation of aggressive conservation programs, expansion of reclaimed water use throughout the City, increased utilization and management of our Central Groundwater Basin and continued seawater desalination research and development, will significantly strengthen Long Beach water supply reliability, as well as maintain affordable water rates well into the future.

Seawater desalination, which may someday make up a small part of the Department's overall reliability portfolio was researched by Department scientists and water quality engineers for several years. In an exclusive public sector partnership, the Long Beach Water Department, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and the United States Bureau of Reclamation completed research on a 300,000 gallon-per-day prototype desalination facility, the largest seawater desalination research and development facility of its kind in the United States.  The research that was conducted at this facility will provide valuable data and information on the subject of seawater desalination for many years to come.

The primary research at the prototype facility centered on further development of a breakthrough membrane technology, known as the "Long Beach Method". Two different, and independent, analyses showed that the technology is 20 to 30 percent more energy efficient than more traditional desalination methods. 

In addition, the Water Department and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation more recently undertook design and construction of an "Under Ocean Floor Seawater Intake and Discharge Demonstration System", the first of its kind in the world, the goal of which is to demonstrate that viable, environmentally responsive intake and discharge systems can be developed along the coast of California.

Currently, seawater desalination is not a cost-effective option for water supply reliability in Long Beach, primarily due to the high cost of energy needed for operations and several abrasive environmental impacts.  Simply put, at this time, the costs associated with importing water from northern California and the Colorado River are far less.  However, as the costs of imported water increase over time and the costs of desalination, and its environmental impacts, decrease, made possible by advances in technology, seawater desalination will become a more relevant asset in water resources management.

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Long Beach Water will not pursue seawater desalination unless our research efforts determine it can be done cost-effectively, with little or no environmental impact.