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Is Desalination an Answer to the Water Crisis?

Is Desalination an Answer to the Water Crisis? thumbnail

On World Water Day, March 22, universal access to clean water continues to be a privilege, when it should be a right. Experts predict that by 2030 the global water demand will exceed supply by 40%.

Despite the fact that our oceans and seas make up more than 97% of the earth’s water resources and half the world’s population lives no further than 40 miles from the water, we’re experiencing one water crisis after another. Adding to that frustration is the fact that solutions exist today which could ameliorate our water issues.

From the water shortage in Cape Town, South Africa — where the current supply is less than 90 days — to the well-documented issues in Flint, Michigan — where an outdated water delivery system delivered lead-tainted water to the city’s population — it is clear that steps must be taken to ensure an ongoing supply of clean water not only to drink, but to maintain the fabric of our society.

We rely on clean water to produce food, electricity, cars, clothing and myriad other things that are difficult to live without. In fact, even if you exclude irrigation, less than five percent of purified water is used for consumption; most of the supply is used for washing, flushing and manufacturing.

For centuries, people prayed for rain and collected it but that alone is no longer an option. There simply isn’t enough. What’s more, rain is unpredictable; it may or may not come. But with a limitless supply of water in the ocean, there is a viable option: desalination.

Back in the 1700’s ocean going ships had their own desalination plants in order for them to have a continuous fresh water supply while at sea. In the early days, seawater was boiled and then condensed. The condensate had little to no salt and the remaining brine was then disposed.

In the 1960’s technical advances in reverse osmosis made this form of water purification more widely available. Today, more than 18,000 desalination plants operate in over 150 countries, and the process requires 80 percent less energy than it did 20 years ago.

According to the International Water Association, the energy required to produce a year’s worth of fresh water from sea water for one household is less than that consumed by the family’s refrigerator.

We must also look at delivery systems. As was evidenced in Flint, much of our underground piping systems are in disrepair and can produce contamination from lead and other toxins. , Disinfectants are used to control biological growth but they can pose an increased risk of cancer and create bad tasting water.

While conventional wisdom would say we need to fix the crumbling infrastructure, there is another option: point-of-use (POU) purification. Since typically only 5% of the water in a distribution system is actually used for drinking water, it is far more efficient to use POU filtration to purify that water at the point it is being consumed.

Additionally, POU filtration is much more environmentally friendly than delivering purified water – from the plastics used in 5-gallon jugs to the greenhouse gasses emitted by the delivery trucks — point of use eliminates those issues and purifies only what is needed, when it is needed.

Finally, we must still stress conservation and using existing water supplies more thoughtfully and efficiently. However, conservation and reuse alone will not avoid water crises around the world. Desalination and point of use systems must supplement conservation.

With the technology available to us today, there shouldn’t ever be a water shortage, particularly when private industry can work in partnership with local, state and federal governments to help supply clean drinking water.

As an example, the mining industry is a key economic driver in South America and it is heavily reliant on clean water to operate its mines. Population and industrial growth have put major strains on the natural supply of clean water, leading to a scarcity that has pitted industry, government and citizenry against each other.

In one example in Chile, rather than putting more pressure on the already limited supply, the Caserones mining company opted to not only supply desalinated seawater to its mine but also provide desalinated drinking water to the local population in Caldera thereby creating a crucial resource for the community.

As a society – our objective should be that every human has access to clean drinking water. It is no longer sustainable – from an environmental, social or civic perspective – for private industry to rely solely on municipalities for their water needs.

The diversification of our water supplies is required to bring the unlimited water in our oceans and seas to our tables and businesses, and guarantee fresh water for all.


19 Comments on "Is Desalination an Answer to the Water Crisis?"

  1. Outcast_Searcher on Thu, 22nd Mar 2018 3:11 pm 

    And of course, let’s pretend that objective doesn’t have to be prioritized and PAID FOR, along with all the other objectives that people have.

    It’s far easier to assert all sorts of “rights” for people than to deal responsibly with real world issues.

  2. Duncan Idaho on Thu, 22nd Mar 2018 3:59 pm 

    Well, if you are a deep water sailor—–
    Otherwise, fore get it.
    We did defeat a desal project in Marin.
    The idiots put a project in that would interfere with the “Gun Club”, the most conservative of Marin residences.
    So you had the Lefties and the Righties on the same side.

  3. onlooker on Thu, 22nd Mar 2018 6:15 pm 

    Oh yes keep thinking that we can perpetually support 7 plus billion and growing via this or that technology even as we are almost choking in our own waste and converting every bit of this planet into human habitat and crowding out non-humans. Ah the grandiose fantasies that we weave that will soon crash upon every single one of us

  4. Survival Acres on Thu, 22nd Mar 2018 7:33 pm 

    Depopulation is the solution – to all the “crisis” that humans have created. It is patently ridiculous to ignore this fact.

    Acting like we can continue to abuse the biosphere indefinitely while massively overpopulating the carrying capacity and endlessly destroying other species is to constantly ignore the real problem, which is us. We are the problem on this planet and how we have chosen to live and behave.

    None of the “crisis” which we have caused will ever be resolved unless we deal with the population and overconsumption / overproduction issues we continue to embrace.

  5. Kevin Cobley on Thu, 22nd Mar 2018 9:50 pm 

    “Back in the 1700’s ocean-going ships had their own desalination plants in order for them to have a continuous fresh water supply while at sea. In the early days, seawater was boiled and then condensed. The condensate had little to no salt and the remaining brine was then disposed of.”
    A load of made up rubbish, water was always stored on ships in barrels and only used for drinking, seawater was pumped for washing.

  6. JH Wyoming on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 12:42 am 

    Reminds of the lyrics to a song by Eddie Money,

    In the midnight hour
    She gave a rebel yell
    More! more!! more!!!

  7. observer on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 1:03 am 

    i run TOR . it wont let me contact or say so much to so many . glen greenwald , uve had the snowden papers and i jus now find out nsa is tracking bitcoin ? wtf ? give it all to wikileaks ffs . pls repost this everwhere …

  8. deadly on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 4:57 am 

    If oil goes away and it is equated with having 50 slaves for each person alive, the population of humans will have to grow to at least 350 billion.

    I could be wrong, but that is what it looks like to me.

    350 billion strong will help the survival of the species as long as 343 billion of them are slaves.

    I really don’t see a problem if oil goes away, as long as there are enough humans to make it all go, it’s all good.

    Am I wrong?

  9. Davy on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 5:31 am 

    Well like oil, technology and markets solved and immediate problem but the problem of peak oil dynamics continues. No one can tell me oil is not depleting and has economic issues, IOW oil requires an expensive and complex economy to be realized these days. The days of easy to get oil that enriches an economy are over now we must make and find expensive oil and in increasing quantities. The issues are a little different with water but the situation is much the same. Both are foundational and vital to civilization. Both have no alternative really. Renewables will never replace oil. Desal will never solve the water problem in a similar way. Technology is not the answer. It is part of the answer. We are requiring ever more expensive arrangements from water diversions to desal. These have allowed further growth but we are near limits for both economic oil and affordable water. All water sources are problematic today because of unrestrained growth. The key with water is the same as energy and that is demand management. Technology is part of it but mostly it is about human behavior. If the human economy does decline significantly we will have numerous issues with water as with oil. Expensive arrangements will come back to haunt civilization. It is called overshoot.

  10. Jef on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 8:04 am 

    Well around 70% of the human body is water so what we need to figure out is how to wring that out.

  11. MASTERMIND on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 8:24 am 

    Is the World Sleepwalking Into The Next Oil Crisis?

  12. Sissyfuss on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 8:42 am 

    Billy Idol, Wyoming. Not Eddie Money.

  13. BobInget on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 9:13 am 

    No one brought up how much energy required for desalination. Up to now most plants use power from the grid or natural gas.

    Driest regions are ‘blessed’ with the most cloudless days. Perfect for solar.
    Ocean front, indeed, off-shore perfect for wind.

  14. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 10:07 am 

    Jef they already did that on an old Star
    Trek episode. The aliens got onto the
    ship and was busy turning everybody into
    sugar cubes. By taking the water out of

    It was a bad situation on the Enterprise.

  15. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 10:08 am 

    There’s no problem getting enough energy to
    run the desalination plant.

    Right next door to it, we’ll have a
    waste-to-energy facility and keep lots of
    garbage and old wheelbarrow tires and
    furniture and particle board all burnin away
    making great big rooster tail of black smoke
    with plenty nice clean drinking water
    from the desalination plant nearby.

  16. deadly on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 10:42 am 

    You could build a giant dome of plastic glass, the base as a pool to hold sea water, the sun would heat the inside of the dome, the sea water would evaporate, condense on the dome ceiling, the condensate, liquid H2O, would travel, stream to a collecting reservoir.

    Voila, free, fresh potable water from sea water.

    Well, it’s not free, you would have to measure the intake and output, place a price on the value of the water due to inputs, costs, and construction of the desalinating plant, a plastic glass dome capable of condensing water vapor in copious amounts.

    Surround the water plant with photovoltaics to supply some electricity to make life just a better world.

    Have it cover one hectare and see what happens.

    You will have sea salt and free water from the ocean to market.

    Sea ice extent for March 23, 2018:

    As you can see, there is plenty of water out there.

  17. dave thompson on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 11:01 am 

    Go Speed Racer, lets not forget all the plastic that will be sucked out of the ocean as we desal the water, that can all go strait into the furnace for power too.

  18. Anonymouse1 on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 1:22 pm 

    I can donate some folding plastic lawn chairs I was planning on chucking into the ocean when no one was looking to GSR’s S2E-Desal project. I can help the poor, the thirsty, the shareholders and investors in the S2E plant, and save the planet all at the same time.

  19. dave thompson on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 1:39 pm 

    I like the stackable plastic chairs myself much easier to throw into the fire box.

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