Scott Birkey co-authored an article for the March 2013 issue of California Land Use Law & Policy Reporter about desalination plants and how they offer a solution to the state's water woes but have become mired in the state and federal environmental review process. According to the article, the delay in desalination plants getting approved is due largely to “constraints related to the protection of sensitive biological resources and the weight of multiple and complex regulatory requirements.”
The article goes on to explain how the plants work, the permitting obstacles and the key permitting and environmental review requirements that apply to them. It also notes that the idea of desalination often gets dismissed in favor of conservation but that it can key play a role in ensuring there's a long term supply of water.
“A key challenge of permitting desalination facilities—like other complex, industrial scale projects— can be chalked up to the “siloed” approach of the myriad statutes and regulations that apply to that particular project, Birkey and co-author Joe Monaco write. “Other considerations ... can be lost in the shuffle, particularly where there’s conflict or tension among policy mandates. Clarifying and prioritizing goals and objectives may be one way to resolve this issue.”