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Seawater Desalination and the Clean Water Act in California and Florida: Balancing Environmental Protection with the Need for Water Open Access

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As fresh water grows scarcer, the need for new water supply options will become greater. Though seawater desalination seems to be an obvious solution to this problem, desalination technology is not a panacea. Some of the greatest considerations in developing desalination facilities are the water quality impacts associated with them, namely those from source water intakes and concentrate management practices. Though the Clean Water Act generally applies to desalination facilities, Congress and EPA have neglected to create requirements that are specifically applicable to seawater desalination facilities. This article looks at the seawater desalination process, the water quality impacts associated with the operation of seawater desalination facilities, and the Clean Water Act requirements that apply to these facilities. It also explores how Florida and California, the two states with the highest seawater desalination capacity, have addressed the water quality impacts associated with desalination facilities. The article concludes that the seawater desalination industry will continue to grow as water supply dwindles and that federal action is necessary to provide industry certainty about Clean Water Act requirements and to prevent states from developing vastly disparate regulatory regimes.

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