Proceed with Caution: Ocean Groups Respond to Desalination Regulations

December 8th, 2015

Joe Geever, Surfrider Foundation (949-636-8426); Sara Aminzadeh, California Coastkeeper Alliance (415-794-8422)
Surfrider Foundation and California Coastkeeper Alliance

(Sacramento, CA) The California State Water Resources Control Board recently released a draft Ocean Plan Amendment known as the Desalination Policy, which will set statewide standards for California seawater desalination facilities. Facilities in San Diego, Orange County, Santa Barbara and at least 12 other seawater desalination facilities are in some stage of consideration, permit applications or construction. Many of the proposed desalination projects in California plan to use open ocean intakes, despite the availability of less harmful alternatives.

“The drought has intensified a knee jerk reaction to build desalination facilities that won’t be completed for many years,” says Dr. Chad Nelsen, Environmental Director of Surfrider Foundation. “Meanwhile, these projects threaten to undermine a reasoned approach to developing sustainable, local and inexpensive water supplies.”

The Surfrider Foundation and California Coastkeeper Alliance do not oppose the use of seawater desalination outright, but feel that that desalination should be considered only after less costly and energy-intensive water supply alternatives have been pursued.

“Desalination should be a last resort after water conservation, stormwater capture, wastewater recycling and other measures have been exhausted,” said Sara Aminzadeh, Executive Director of California Coastkeeper Alliance. “We are nowhere near that point.”

The Desalination Policy has been under development for more than three years, following the development of similar regulations in 2010 to protect marine life from coastal power plants that use once-through cooling open ocean intakes. The State Water Board determined that these open intakes were killing 79 billion fish and marine life species every year. Although these intakes are being phased out for coastal power plants, desalination plants may be allowed to use the very same intake structures, undermining California’s ongoing efforts to protect the coast and ocean.

The Surfrider Foundation and California Coastkeeper Alliance want to see a Desalination Policy adopted so that if California communities decide to construct desalination facilities, regulations require that seawater desalination facilities are built in a manner that protects fish and marine life, and are located in sites that minimize harm to the coast and ocean.

View the California Drought and Seawater Desalination Issue Brief at

California Coastkeeper Alliance unites 12 local Waterkeeper organizations to fight for swimmable, fishable and drinkable waters for Californian communities and ecosystems.

The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. For more information on the Surfrider
Foundation, visit

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