Will desalination solve the global water crisis and end thirst as we know it?

Of course not, but everyone—including the stridently gloomy and pessimistic Waterblogged.info—would like it to be true. An unlimited supply of water delivered to us just in the nick of time by heroic hydrologists is an appealing and comforting concept. The problem is that too many in the world see desal as a panacea that renders continued fretting about water shortages pointless.

When Waterblogged.info insists on spoiling the mood at social gatherings by going on about the looming global water crisis, rowdy revelers often retaliate by bringing up desalination pacific-institute-desal-pdf.jpgin a manner that suggests that we are hopelessly uninformed and a drag as well, and make a mental note to forget to invite us the next time.

Yes, Virginia, retorts Waterblogged.info, archly and knowledgeably, there is desalination and there are over 7,000 large-scale desal plants in operation all over the world—60% or so in the truly parched Middle East. In California, the home of Waterblogged.info’s North American headquarters, there are many desalination projects in various stages of planning and completion.

Desalination works, but it is also maddeningly complex and otherwise problematic when implemented on a large scale. The Pacific Institute (PI), an Oakland-based think tank, has posted a comprehensive report in PDF form about the future of desalination in California, called Desalination, With a Grain of Salt. You can go to PI’s download page by clicking on the image at the left. PI’s elevator pitch would probably be that desalination is a costly and otherwise problematic source of water that should be considered only when there are no other alternatives.

If the 100-page report seems daunting or, if you, like the CEO of this blog, are an important and busy executive, you can download the executive summary. Another relatively painless introduction is to view the following video—and the other three of a four-part series on YouTube—in which an astonishingly inarticulate San Francisco television host interviews Heather Cooley, a representative of PI, about the prospects for desalination in California. Be patient and let the host babble incoherently for a few minutes; Cooley is sharp and knowledgeable and the four short vids are a great introduction to desalination.

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