Time is Now to De-Bug Desalination

Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink. The famous line from the Coleridge poem is increasingly relevant to more and more of our planet.

Some towns on the California coast have reached an interesting point in regards to their drinking water. It’s one of those situations to tuck in back of your mind for future reference, going forward.

At the seaside town of Marina, a new $7 million dollar water desalination plant sits fenced off and closed. It is capable of desalting millions of gallons of ocean water per day, and it’s water the state could use. So why is the plant idle? The main reason is that from time they began planning and building the plant, the citizens adopted water conservation tactics that made a real impact. This, and the fact that water desalination uses huge amounts of energy, resulted in math that said the plant was not needed. For now.

Water desalination is energy intensive, no questioning that. Millions of gallons of water are pumped over great distances and forced under pressure through massive filters. Construction of the plants is a withering expense for taxpayers. Sadly enough, local corruption and mismanagement were part of the story in this case in California, along with new environmental considerations that arose after the construction was approved.

Desalination is a last resort, but it is one that is coming in the future. Isreal plans to derive 75% of it’s drinking water from desalinating sea water by 2013. In the case of California they have every intention of using that idle plant in Marina some day, and building others. With fresh water becoming scarcer, we are going to have to desalinate. Consider that all of the water on planet Earth would fit in a sphere 860 miles in diameter. That’s all the oceans, lakes, water vapor, everything. It would make a water ball that would barely cover the western United States. Of that water, only a tiny, miniscule percentage is drinkable fresh water – Perhaps a sphere big enough to cover an average-sized American city.

The urgency to resolve the problems with desalination comes because lack of fresh water will be the primary challenge caused by global warming. Rising sea levels slowly swamping coastal towns is bad, and that is what you hear the most about, but coastal populations can move inland. Not having enough fresh water to drink and irrigate crops is the crisis.

With wind, solar, and wave-generated power, we could offset a lot of the energy requirement, and have desalination plants gushing all over the world. For young people, for the future, this is the only way. Unless you count lack of fresh water as an option.

It is a situation that deserves much more attention in the here and now.



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