“Desal Dialog” Promotes National Communications on Desalination Permitting Issues

Desalination can be a contentious topic, but regulators, utilities and industry experts recently came together for cordial, albeit spirited, discussions in a national workshop aimed at promoting understanding of the key issues that impact permitting of both brackish and seawater desalination projects and ways to resolve them. The workshop – part of a national “Desal Dialog” – was supported by funding by the WateReuse Research Foundation. NRS Consulting Engineers worked jointly with Water Globe Consulting to create the Dialog and conduct the workshop. Steps included identifying interested parties, managing development of a series of white papers on key permitting issues, and crafting a process for sharing information on possible solutions to resolve issues and thereby to expedite permitting while ensuring that the permitted projects are environmentally sound. The desalination permitting workshop, held March 28 – 29 in Sacramento, brought together 50 participants representing federal, state, and local water and environmental agencies as well as water utilities and other water industry associations. California represented state drinking water programs at the event.

Desal Dialog Permitting Topics:

  • Impingement & entrainment of aquatic organisms by open intakes
  • Source water quality characterization
  • Product water quality
  • Blending of source & brackish desalinated waters
  • Characterization of discharges
  • Seawater concentrate water quality
  • Alternative SWRO concentrate disposal methods
  • Alternative BWRO concentrate disposal methods
  • RO membrane pathogen removal credits & integrity testing
  • Removal of algal toxins by RO membranes & NSF certification of equipment, chemicals & membranes for potable use

Workshop attendees heard in-depth presentations on first-hand experiences in permitting desalination projects in Spain, Australia, and Massachusetts, and then broke into a series of discussion sessions focused on the 10 specific topics. The sessions were designed not only to identify permitting challenges but also to share the diverse experience of the Desal Dialog participants and to identify knowledge gaps that need to be addressed in order to facilitate the permitting process. The workshop participants also created initial outlines of applied research projects and permitting guidelines to streamline the desalination project permitting. The results of the breakout sessions and suggestions for next steps will be compiled, posted for participant review and comment, and then submitted to the WateReuse Research Foundation. Final results and plans for further efforts will be posted to the project web site. Text of the white papers, a list of participating organizations, and more information about the process also are available at the Desal Dialog site.