Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis


Best Senior Thesis in Environment, Economics, and Politics

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Environment, Economics, and Politics (EEP)

Reader 1

William Ascher

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© 2015 Kelsey L Heflin


California is headed into its fifth consecutive year of drought, and climate change is expected to bring more frequent and severe droughts to the state. The state’s water supply is susceptible to drought as seen from the effects of the current dry period. Besides the clear impacts of drought, there are less obvious environmental, economic, and social costs, such as land subsidence from groundwater overdraft, and the consequences of urban tree and green space loss. As a uniquely climate-independent source, desalinated water can stabilize California’s water supply and lessen some of these drought-related impacts. Although seawater desalination is touted as the most costly and energy-intensive method for augmenting water supply, if implemented in a feasible manner, the technology provides a range of positive benefits for drought-prone California in the long term.

This thesis analyzes the economic and environmental costs of using desalination to mitigate the effects of drought in California. The thesis explores both Australian and Californian desalination facilities as case studies for evaluating the benefits and impacts of using different methods of desalination, in an effort to determine which method would be the most beneficial for securing California’s water supply. It concludes that lower-capacity, flexible desalination facilities would be useful along California’s coast, under some conditions. By generating a supply of desalinated water for coastal communities, more water from the state and federal water projects could be redirected to agricultural regions and inland communities that suffer the most from dry spells, and thereby lessen a number of drought-related environmental, economic, and social consequences.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.