UCLA researchers unveil a better way to clean brackish water

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

UCLA researchers this week rolled out a new mobile water treatment technology designed to cut the costs of getting the salt out of brackish groundwater and agricultural runoff.

It’s a desalination plant installed in 40-foot cargo container able to treat up to 25,000 gallons of water a day — enough to provide about 50,000 people with clean, fresh water for reuse in irrigation and household uses.

Yoram Cohen, a professor at UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, invented and designed the water treatment system, which is operated by remote control and forces water through a membrane to catch the salt and other minerals.


“The key is that we’ve eliminated the need for on-site maintenance crews,” Cohen said in an interview. “We can also modify the system by remote control as needed to cope with changing water quality conditions and reduce membrane fouling.”

The payoff?

The system treats water at a cost of about $1.50 per 1,000 liters, said Cohen, who has installed desalination technology on U.S. military vessels. By way of comparison, bottled water costs about $1 to $3 per liter.

The unit will be on display at UCLA on Monday through Wednesday. After that, it will go to a test site in farmlands west of Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley, where poor drainage has increased salinity and levels of calcium sulfate — the main constituent of drywall — in agricultural runoff.

The experiment is supported by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the California Department of Water Resources and several water districts in the San Joaquin Valley.

“The real beauty of this technology,” Cohen said, “ is that it can be scaled up in size to provide water for entire cities, or scaled down to serve individual households anywhere in the world.”

For the record, 5:44 p.m., May 2: A previous version of this post referred to the California Department of Water and Power.