As Colorado River water supplies dwindle, plans for desalination litter the West

There is less than 60 miles of coastline between Huntington Beach and Carlsbad, California. In that space, there exists one desalination plant, and plans for two more, which have been in the works for years.

Up the coast, a desalination plant in Santa Barbara was recently reactivated. Down the coast, in Rosarito, Mexico, plans are in place to construct the Western Hemisphere’s largest desalination plant. Treated seawater from that plant will likely be pumped back across the border to thirsty communities in California, Nevada and Arizona. And in Yuma, Arizona, a desalting plant capable of producing potable water from a brackish underground reservoir is going back online.

There are currently 16 proposals for desalination plants in California alone, with more planned in Mexico and the inland U.S. Southwest. The technology has long been talked about as a solution to water shortages in the West caused by drought, population increases and the dwindling resources of the Colorado River, which are expected to be reduced by an additional 30 percent by 2050. That’s according to a recent study from the University of Arizona and Colorado State University. In addition, the advancement of projects in Colorado, including the Gross Dam expansion and Windy Gap, could remove up to an additional 100,000 cumulative acre-feet of water from the Colorado and Poudre Rivers. All this seems to indicate a get-it-while-you-can attitude among water authorities and corporations.

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