Ocean Plan Requirements for Seawater Desalination Facilities
Seawater Desalination Overview
Desalination facilities produce freshwater by removing salts from brackish or saltwater for municipal, industrial, or other uses. Seawater desalination draws water from the ocean and passes the water through a membrane, resulting in an amount of fresh water and an amount of hypersaline brine. The Ocean Plan includes requirements to ensure the construction and operation of seawater desalination facilities minimize intake and mortality of all forms of marine life. Mitigation measures are required to address harmful impacts to marine life that occur even when a desalination facility uses the best available site, design, and technology feasible. State Water Board Resources Control Board Resolution 2015-0033 describes the responsibility regarding the siting, planning, construction, and operation of desalination plants in the state of California.
Draft Seawater Desalination Siting and Streamlining Report to Expedite Permitting
The Draft Seawater Desalination Siting and Streamlining Report to Expedite Permitting (Draft Report) is now available for public comment through July 28, 2023. Please see the Notice of Opportunity for Public Comment for information on how to submit comments.
State Water Board staff convened a Seawater Desalination Interagency Group, comprised of state and federal agencies that review environmental documents and permit or lease applications for proposed seawater desalination facilities, to develop a report in fulfillment of directives in California’s Water Supply Strategy: Adapting to a Hotter Drier Future. Agencies identified criteria for siting seawater desalination projects where they are cost effective and environmentally appropriate to facilitate approval under existing regulatory requirements, as well as recommendations for potential changes to the requirements to streamline permitting. The Draft Report has no regulatory force or effect but reflects interagency consensus recommendations to clarify the permitting process while ensuring appropriate review of projects.
To learn more about this report, please watch our Informational Webinar, which staff held on Friday, July 21, 2023. The purpose of the informational webinar was to share the impetus and approach for developing the Draft Report, provide an overview of its recommendations, including brief presentations from some of the interagency partners involved in this collaborative effort, and describe the process for submitting comments on the Draft Report. The slides presented in this informational webinar are also available as a PDF.
For more information, please contact Clifton Herrmann at Clifton.Herrmann@waterboards.ca.gov.
Seawater Desalination Facilities
- Desalination Plant Entrainment Impacts and Mitigation, October 9, 2013
- Hyper-Salinity Toxicity Thresholds for Nine California Ocean Plan Toxicity Test Protocols, July 2012
- Mitigation and Fees for the Intake of Seawater by Desalination and Power Plants, March 14, 2012
- Management of Brine Discharges to Coastal Waters - Recommendations of a Science Advisory Panel, March 2012
The Seawater Desalination MOA memorializes the relationship between agencies to coordinate timely and effective review of environmental documents and permits or lease applications for proposed seawater desalination facilities, and demonstrates the Water Boards’ ongoing commitment to interagency coordination. The included agencies and their websites can be found below:
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
California Coastal Commission
National Marine Fisheries Service’s West Coast Region
North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board
Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
Region 2 – San Francisco Bay
Peter von Langen
Region 4 – Los Angeles