If you're a utilities engineer or just coming out of college with a civil engineering degree, you might want to learn more about California's ambitious plans to build a series of massive ocean desalination plants.
A growing population and an ever-increasing thirst for water will force California to turn to desalination for water. There are currently about 20 full-scale proposals for desalination plants that would run from San Francisco to San Diego. Some plan to draw salty waters from the Pacific; others will use brackish water through ground wells. Most facilities will draw millions of gallons of seawater daily from in-take pipes that power plants that will be phasing out in 15 years.
Environmentalists oppose desalination plants because they can entrap sea lions, millions of fish and other marine life. To solve this problem, utilities engineers have proposed wedge-wire screens. Plants in Carlsbad and Monterey could break ground this year and become the first large-scale desalination plants in California.
Another problem is that desalination plants create heavy concentrates of salt and other chemicals that could be dumped into the ocean. Desalination is also a very power hungry operation. The reverse osmosis systems that push water through membranes use lots of electricity. As an example, the $700 million proposed plant in Carlsbad will meet 8 percent of San Diego County's water supply but consume enough electricity to power 45,000 homes and emit roughly 200 million pounds in greenhouse gases annually.
Utilities and other engineers will be needed to develop the technologies that will make desalination plants more efficient, re-capturing energy and using renewable resources.