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Water 2019, 11(2), 208; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11020208

Biological and Physical Effects of Brine Discharge from the Carlsbad Desalination Plant and Implications for Future Desalination Plant Constructions

1
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
2
Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Science, Stockholm University, Svante Arrhenius väg 20A, 114 18 Stockholm, Sweden
3
Institute of Marine Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
4
The Nature Conservancy, 115 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA
5
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, 130 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA
6
Cowell College, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 9 December 2018 / Revised: 18 January 2019 / Accepted: 22 January 2019 / Published: 25 January 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecological Status Assessment of Transitional Waters)
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Abstract

Seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination is increasingly used as a technology for addressing shortages of freshwater supply and desalination plants are in operation or being planned world-wide and specifically in California, USA. However, the effects of continuous discharge of high-salinity brine into coastal environments are ill-constrained and in California are an issue of public debate. We collected in situ measurements of water chemistry and biological indicators in coastal waters (up to ~2 km from shore) before and after the newly constructed Carlsbad Desalination Plant (Carlsbad, CA, USA) began operations. A bottom water salinity anomaly indicates that the spatial footprint of the brine discharge plume extended about 600 m offshore with salinity up to 2.7 units above ambient (33.2). This exceeds the maximum salinity permitted for this location based on the California Ocean Plan (2015 Amendment to Water Quality Control Plan). However, no significant changes in the assessed biological indicators (benthic macrofauna, BOPA-index, brittle-star survival and growth) were observed at the discharge site. A model of mean ocean wave potential was used as an indicator of coastal mixing at Carlsbad Beach and at other locations in southern and central CA where desalination facilities are proposed. Our results indicated that to minimize environmental impacts discharge should target waters where a long history of anthropogenic activity has already compromised the natural setting. To ensure adequate mixing of the discharge brine desalination plants should be constructed at high-energy sites with sandy substrates, and discharge through diffusor systems. View Full-Text
Keywords: SWRO desalination; brine discharge; osmotic stress; coastal monitoring; impacted coastal systems SWRO desalination; brine discharge; osmotic stress; coastal monitoring; impacted coastal systems
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Lykkebo Petersen, K.; Heck, N.; G. Reguero, B.; Potts, D.; Hovagimian, A.; Paytan, A. Biological and Physical Effects of Brine Discharge from the Carlsbad Desalination Plant and Implications for Future Desalination Plant Constructions. Water 2019, 11, 208.

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