Date of Graduation

Spring 5-19-2023

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Management (MSEM)


College of Arts and Sciences


Environmental Management

First Advisor

Adam Hess


In response to prolonged drought, desalination is gaining popularity as an alternative water production method for fresh water. However, water desalting technology poses concerns; the process is energy intensive, creates brine waste, and has the potential to damage sensitive coastal ecosystems. Significant research is available on the technological, economic, and energy efficiency aspects of desalination, while only a small percentage of the current literature focuses on environmental impacts. This research analyzes the desalination literature holistically in terms of both energy consumption and environmental impacts by conducting 1) a historical and current state review of the sector, 2) a technology analysis of current energy standards, and 3) a case study and gap analysis of environmental impacts. This study found that the sustainability of a desalination plant design is heavily dependent on several indicators like renewable energy availability, feedwater intake design, brine disposal method, coastal hydrological conditions, and proximity to sensitive ecosystems. Outcomes for this research include a quantitative/qualitative sustainability index tool, additional sustainability considerations, and design recommendations specific to coastal California for mitigating energy intensity and coastal damage. These findings inform state, regional, and local water stakeholders on the potential impacts of incorporating desalination into a community’s water portfolio.