The City of Fort Bragg and Oneka Technologies Partner to Deploy the First Wave-Powered Desalination Demonstration Site in California

Drought in California has occurred in varying degrees throughout history. However, in recent years, the impacts of severe drought conditions on the City of Fort Bragg’s water supply left the community vulnerable during summer months. The City of Fort Bragg relies on surface flows from the Noyo River to supply water to residents and visitors – and low river flows, combined with high tide events, resulted in brackish water the summer of 2021. Fortunately, the City was able to secure emergency grant funds from the State of California to install a portable desalination unit next to its Matson Hole site that delivered fresh water to the system. This approach is one of many City actions to diversify and strengthen water supply. For example, in 2016, the City completed the Summers Land Reservoir, and recently acquired 584 acres to build three new reservoirs. 

Fort Bragg’s Blue Economy Initiatives

In parallel, the City of Fort Bragg has decided to pursue a strategic approach to opportunities that are part of the Blue Economy. This vision for the economic development of the region is based on a number of pillars including renewable energy, aquaculture, ocean resilience, protection of ocean ecosystems, mitigation, sequestration and adaptation, emission reduction, marine cleantech, and promoting jobs in the environmental sphere. For context, NOAA has described the new blue economy as “a knowledge based economy, looking to the sea not just for extraction of material goods, but for data and information to address societal challenges and inspire their solutions”.

A First Wave-Powered Desalination Project in California

Given the combination of the water needs of the city, the Blue Economy Initiative, and the potential of the California coast for wave-powered desalination with its 840 miles of coastline and powerful, year-round waves, it was a natural fit for the City of Fort Bragg to partnered with Oneka Technologies to deploy California’s first wave-powered desalination project. 

Oneka Technologies’ wave-powered desalination buoys turn seawater into freshwater without emitting greenhouse gas emissions, exclusively relying on the power of ocean waves. For the pilot project, an Iceberg-class unit, the 9th generation of this technology which has been refined over 7 years in the ocean environment, will be deployed along the Fort Bragg coast. During the pilot project, one Iceberg-class unit will: 

  • Produce up to 13,200 GPD (50 m3/day) over a 12-month period;
  • Emit zero greenhouse gas and save 1 ton of CO2e per year for each m3 of fresh water produced daily, compared to diesel-powered desalination plants. This means that in the pilot project 50 tons of CO2e would be saved;
  • Generate low-impact brine (30% increase in salinity compared to seawater) that is quickly dispersed through wave action so there is no salinity difference detected 6 feet from the buoys (conventional desalination results in brine that is 100-150% higher in salt concentration);
  • Include an intake designed with 60 micron mesh (smaller than the thickness of a human hair), to ensure the safety of marine ecosystems;
  • Have its entire reverse osmosis process taking place offshore, which preserves terrestrial ecosystems. 

The goal of this demonstration project is to display the benefits of Oneka’s desalination technology, on all facets of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental, representing a first stepping stone to address challenges of water security for Fort Bragg, as well as other coastal communities. 

What will happen before the deployment of the Oneka unit?

  • Permitting: The State of California invested US$1.5 M in grant funds to support the City of Fort Bragg and Oneka Technologies pilot project. The project is in its early stages of permitting – local, State and Federal agencies as well as a very experienced California environmental firm are working together closely to ensure compliance with the many laws and regulations in place to protect the environment. 
  • Seawater Sampling: Seawater samples will be taken during the summer of 2023 to better understand its composition and a survey of the ocean floor will be conducted to understand the area and minimize any impact on the marine ecosystem. 
  • Spotter Buoy Deployment: Two small spotter buoys about the size of a basketball will be deployed in the summer of 2023 to study wave patterns just off the coast for 3 to 4 months. 
  • Communication Outreach: Oneka and the City of Fort Bragg will be working collectively with the Noyo Collective, the West Center and the Harbour Master as well as others to ensure community’s involvement and to keep everyone informed along the way. 

The City of Fort Bragg is proud to support deployment of Oneka Technologies buoy demonstration project. Oneka’s innovative approach to desalination is one example of the many exciting opportunities emerging in the blue economy sector. This vision for the economic development on the Mendocino Coast promotes good jobs while also supporting healthy marine ecosystems. 

To learn more about the Fort Bragg demonstration project and stay informed as the project progresses, please sign-up for “Blue Economy” e-notifications through the City’s website.

We also invite you to visit the Noyo Ocean Collective website to get involved in the regional blue economy conversation.