California continues to suffer through a fourth year of water shortages, bordered by the largest body of water on earth.
The crisis has encouraged residents to once again wonder if the Pacific Ocean is the answer to the state's water woes. Some are pushing for additional desalination plants like those used in water-starved Israel and Australia to convert ocean water into unlimited fresh water.
Coastal Santa Barbara turned to desalination during a devastating five-year drought in the late 1980s, but by the time a new plant was ready for operation in 1992, heavy rains had returned. The $35 million facility ran for a few weeks before being shuttered.
That's because the desalination process is not only potentially harmful to marine life, but removing salt by pushing salt water through membranes takes far more energy than simply pulling fresh water from inland sources. All that energy use is not only counter to the state's push for lower emissions, but it only seems economical during the worst of a drought. As Santa Barbara reactivates the plant this summer, water bills in the area are expected to increase by 40 percent.
Not only is desalination expensive compared to the state's dwindling freshwater supplies, it is more expensive than other drought-year options, like the State Water Project, which pumps water to Southern California from the less parched top half of the state.