Fight the drought with desalination

August 23, 2016
Jordan Cunningham

Jordan Cunningham


Despite last winter’s modest rainfall, California remains mired in its fifth year of drought. Sixty percent of the state has been categorized by the State Water Resources Control Board as being in “severe” or “extreme” drought. Hardest hit is the Central Coast and Central Valley, much of which is in the worst category of “exceptional” drought.

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors declared a local drought emergency in March. Many of our communities have adopted mandatory water restrictions of up to 20 percent, and most residents have stepped up to limit their water use. These steps are good and necessary.

But given our climate, there always will be the potential for drought. For the good of our residents and local agricultural economy, we must actively pursue new water sources to expand our water supply locally.

Fortunately, we have the technology and opportunity to solve many of our water supply problems through expansion of desalination technology for a stable and drought proof water supply.

It is ironic that we live next to the largest body of water on Earth, but we find ourselves like the Ancient Mariner who complained, “Water, water, everywhere/ Nor any drop to drink.”

Desalination technology has evolved to where we are now able to remove the salt and other contaminants from ocean water in an environmentally-sensitive, cost-effective manner. One such desalination facility has been in operation for years at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, mainly serving the plant’s operational needs.

In March the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors authorized $900,000 to research providing Diablo’s desalinated water to South County residents. A study concluded that the project “could be both technically and economically feasible.”

The county found that the one-time cost of the pipeline upgrades might be as low as $21.7 million and the cost of the desalinated water as low as $1,800 an acre-foot. That would make it economically competitive with other sources such as groundwater, recycled wastewater and purchasing state water.

Unfortunately, PG&E’s decision to close the plant by 2025 resulted in the company backing out of the desalination expansion plan. But we shouldn’t let this opportunity pass. Our leaders must step up and find a way to make this happen for communities like Avila Beach, Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach and Oceano.

We need to entice a private company to buy the desal facility from PG&E once the power plant closes, expand the desalination facility and enter into long-term water supply contracts with our cities and counties. This can be done over the next eight years with the right leadership and hard work.

There is no doubt that the Central Coast needs new and creative solutions to meet our water needs for our homes and crops. We need strong, effective leadership to make it happen. One of the reasons I’m running for state Assembly is to work proactively on long term solutions to our problems. Using desal technology to address our present and future water shortages is a top priority.

Thanks to technology and our proximity to the Pacific Ocean, we have the capability to solve our problems. It just takes political will and creative leadership.

Jordan Cunningham, a businessman and former prosecutor who lives in Templeton, is a candidate to represent the 35th Assembly District, which includes San Luis Obispo County and western Santa Barbara County.


I think everyone realizes that something needs to be done. First PG&E is not going to sell part of their plant to anyone plus the plant will be open for years during the shutdown period with full security in place. I put most of the blame on our water shortage directly on the backs of politicians and environmentalist. Our smaller communities in the southern part of the county could easily be served by desalination plants. Large cruise ships and military ships provide water to thousands of people on cruise ships and ships like aircraft carriers. A series of these plants located along the coast and interconnected would provide large amounts of water to the communities that are suffering the most. Now comes the problem. The environmentalist would put up so many barriers that the time delays and cost for studies would make these projects prohibitive. Now for the politicians, are any of them courageous enough to stand up to the environmentalist and do what is right? Should additional water be provided would the politicians then continue to support the developers and let development continue on until the desalination plants couldn’t keep up and put us back right where we are today.

The other problem with California is that there has not been anything done to store additional water for the growth that California is seeing. Once again it’s because of the politicians and environmentalist.

So the short story to all of this is we will hear the talk, spend the money on studies and then do nothing, like the BOS spending $900,000 yes $900,000 for another studies that ends with no results.


The ships use “waste” heat from their engines to distill water plus they refill the tanks when they are in port. Using fuel oil to distill water is TREMENDOUSLY EXPENSIVE. It also adds even more CO2 to the atmosphere.


Do you think it will be cheaper to run out of water? Obviously there is going to be a cost to any alternative.

San Louie

You’re asking the wrong question. You should be asking:

Is it better/cheaper to build more dams/reservoirs?

It is better to increase conservation measures?

Is it better to more strongly limit growth?


Agriculture won’t pay for Desal. The corporations are getting what they want by drilling deeper, consuming more,and pushing out local, smaller groundwater users (businesses and residents). Desal water is thousands of $ per acre foot, while groundwater is only hundreds. Urban water users are already paying for the waste of corporate Ag, and it’ll get worse if the costs of desal are put on us as well.

And… The numbers cited by Mr. Cunningham regarding the county’s Diablo Desal attempt are a fabrication. Hold on to your wallets!


Snooky- you accuse the writer of fabricating numbers, yet you do the same in your post. What are we to make of that? I would say you are worse, since you can add HYPOCRITE to your name in addition to fabricator.


fog — The County’s assessment of the Diablo Desal project costs was nowhere near complete. The analysis had just begun. That’s why the numbers are a fabrication… nothing personal, no name-calling, it’s just true.

And… regarding my numbers, they are correct.

However, if Big Ag was paying thousands of dollars for water, maybe they would conserve more (can they conserve 20-30% like most cities have?)


Your numbers are NOT correct. Here’s an example:

“The cost for Morro Bay to produce desalinated water is cheaper than buying water from the state. Seawater costs about $1,550 per acre-foot to treat, while treating brackish groundwater costs about $1,000 per acre-foot, Livick said.Jul 17, 2015”

When most people think about DeSal, they quote numbers from 20 years ago, when it was much more expensive and energy intensive to produce. There have been, and will continue to be, great strides made in innovation that will make DeSal more and more viable.


fog… you’re mixing apples, oranges, and bananas. My costs comparisons were for groundwater compared to ocean desalination. The reason Morro Bay has to desalinate their groundwater is because it is polluted with Nitrates. If that groundwater wasn’t polluted, it would be much, much cheaper than ocean desalinated water.

Desalination of brackish water comes in-between the two, which makes sense. But, the cheapest of all for agricultural use (besides subsidized State resource), is pulling from a healthy groundwater or surface water basin. It’s local and accessible, and theoretically it should be measured and managed. The question is… can we rise up to those standards? Or, are we going to turn our backs on management and instead pursue limitless waste.


snooky- good points, logical, and respectfully laid out. I retract my statement calling you a hypocrite and apologize for hastily tossing the disparaging comment your way. Sorry ’bout that.

Thank you for the dialogue.


“Pipe Dream”

Josey Wales

Ladies & Gentlemen,

I DISAGREE with politician Jordan Cunningham!

His proposal sounds more like the character Richie Cunningham from ‘Happy Days’, and I don’t think any serious person expects a business to take over PGE’s mess at Diablo and create a water solution to SLO’s crisis by using desalinization.

The problem with these politician types is they will say and do anything to get elected, and one has to wonder what his real agenda is?

More growth? More Traffic? More profits for his donors?

Just saying,



Desalinization is ridiculously expensive and entirely unnecessary. We have plenty of rain in California. We stupidly allow it to just pour into the ocean. We need increased water storage. Direct injection of storm water into existing aquifers is the least expensive method to increase water supplies with the lowest environmental impact. Desalinization uses extraordinary amounts of energy and contributes to global climate change; which is likely triggering more frequent droughts.



Granted you are correct in the statement we dont collect rainfall. Consider what this state is up against with regard to NIMBY’ism and enviroMENTAList. We’re not constructing dams, were removing them to save 3 legged gnats. The current inability to control many fires is a result of more enviro mentality. Dont touch, dont clear,dont mow,dont control, be natural so when it lights off there is no chance to contain or control. Burn homes, kill helpless animals caught in the blaze, destroy a lifetime of ones hard work. Cal has become over run by stupidity from the likes of Brown and personal agenda greenies. Desal works, but like everything else to little to late and it too will be shot down by the greens. All of us will be drinking our own recycled body fluids soon because there is no other way to produce water thanks to ignorance and personal agendas, better get used to the thought of it.


slo johnny, Desal is no longer ridiculously expensive. You are thinking 40 years ago!

Tell Israel that Desal is stupid… I don’t think so.

As each year passes, and technology evolves, Desal becomes more and more viable.


Desal did not get cheap, other sources of water got expensive too. Desal requires lots of of technology, piping, permitting, and POWER. LOTS and LOTS of power. That’s why Diablo or Dubai make sense. Desal costs about $2,000 per year per family of five. That BEFORE muni profit, sewer fees, distribution costs, etc. So, think bills that are about $500 every two months vs. $150.

That being said, you should see the cost of not having water.


“The cost for Morro Bay to produce desalinated water is cheaper than buying water from the state. Seawater costs about $1,550 per acre-foot to treat, while treating brackish groundwater costs about $1,000 per acre-foot, Livick said.Jul 17, 2015”


Desalinated water typically costs about $2,000 an acre foot — roughly the amount of water a family of five uses in a year. The cost is about double that of water obtained from building a new reservoir or recycling wastewater, according to a 2013 study from the state Department of Water Resources.May 29, 2014

Nation’s largest ocean desalination plant goes up near San Diego ……/nations-largest-ocean-desalination-pl…San Jose Mercury News

You can’t believe local sources for ANY technical data…sorry.


Desalinization uses ENORMOUS amounts of electricity to pump the salt water through the membranes at very high pressure. That is what makes it very expensive. The average rainfall in much of Israel is less than 5 in per year and it’s a very densely populated country. We have plenty of rain water in California.

San Louie

Israel has no other choice. Building additional reservoirs won’t include their water bank.


Jordan Cunningham represents hope for the next generation. What I really appreciate about him is that he was born and raised in the area. If you have a chance take the opportunity to talk and meet with this guy. He cares about the place he was born and will do all he can do to save it. We desperately need some young, fresh ideas to move our district forward.


We need to abandon the ridiculous high speed rail. Use the money and resources to Benefit every citizen by constructing desal plants.


Should have built Maglev..

Maglev is about 2x as fast, on raised pills mostly, so agriculture and roads etc pass undetered underneath (it is a bit noisy however).

Maglev is the “high speed rail” of today, so why are we using antiquated overpriced traditional rail again?

Noodly Appendages

Or….we could be represented by someone who does NOT push a pro development agenda. There are way the hell too many new houses here for the local need. They are made for and marketed to people from out of the area to move here and enrich the few while ensnaring the rest of us in traffic, crowds and lines. Or…we could address the really big elephant in the room. How much water does a trillion grapevines use? 30 gallons of water are required to make ONE glass of wine.


Or… We could all become NIMBYs, deny jobs to those who do the actual building of the homes, deny jobs to the employees in the stores and shops where those lines exist, and reap the benefits of the ever rising prices the homes we already have when new supply dries up. That way, no one will move here and we can bask in our own “I came and got mine, but you are not welcome to get yours, so stay out.” While we’re at it, maybe we could find a way to “evict” anyone who came after some arbitrary date.

Or… We could see which businesses use too much water and shut them down. We could demand every home be retrofitted with only one toilet.

Or… We could responsibly control future water usage while simultaneously providing water for reasonable growth and development. After all, if we don’t move forward, we will ultimately stagnate, then decline.


One toilet flushed 30 times a day vs. two toilets flushed 15 times a day each. What difference does that make?

What we don’t need, in terms of new people to the county, are more foreign workers to work new strawberry and wine grape fields, unlimited refugees to the area, and more illegal immigrants with an average 5th grade education.

Expanding population by bringing in masses of new people will trigger higher taxes and fewer resources for the people already here. We can’t solve the problems of the world in our community. Mass migration to the US will only render us ineffectual, helpless to do anything but survive.


What the hell, let’s just pass a law that says only businesses that employ exclusively middle and upper class white people can exist in SLO County. Don’t like the “foreign” workers working strawberry and wine fields? Get out and pick some. DARE you to.


Great idea Jordan, but probably a no-go. One of the serious issues is the permitting for the intake and outfall, both necessary for the desalination operation. Those permits were “promised” to not be renewed in exchange (loosely) for the ability to run Diablo to 2025. While we are thirsty, the contorted so-called ‘environmentalists’ have convinced our dim politicians that fish larvae are being killed from the plant. Even though, in nature, the majority of them die anyway.