They used to call California ocean desalination a disaster. But water crisis brings new look for desalination
On the banks of the Sacramento River in West Sacramento, this past June, thousands of people gathered to protest California’s water crisis. But they didn’t have to go far to find a sobering place as they watched a demonstration at a desalination plant. To this day, the demonstration remains at the center of California’s water crisis. It was called the “People’s Desalination” rally.
It was in August of 1971, when more than a dozen people took a swim with sea urchin eggs on the shores of San Francisco. They were there as part of the first wave of California’s citizens who came together to bring public pressure to bear on then-Governor Ronald Reagan to end the state’s water shortages.
At that time, California was having its worst drought in half a century, affecting nearly half of the state, and producing drinking water shortages in the Bay Area.
On Aug. 27, 1971, that happened again.
The governor, Pat Brown
The same day, the governor, Pat Brown, of the day as well as the day of the rally, made a decision that would leave more than 11,000 people without clean drinking water.
The governor asked the chief engineering officer of the city’s water system to come up with $11 million to build six desalination plants. The governor was, at the time, fighting for re-election.
And two plants were built. They began producing water for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge system in 1973.
The two plants are now owned by a subsidiary of the company that built them, which is now called California Water Service. They make up what the governor’s office says is the largest such enterprise in the world.
The governor’s decision to build the plants was criticized as the solution to the state’s chronic water shortage.
Former President George H.W. Bush, at the time,