Yet another desalination update!

Figure 2: Electricity consumption of various California water sources

Figure 2: Electricity consumption of various California water sources

As promised, yet more additions to our ever-growing compendium of desalination-related links, the entirety of which can be found on this page: Getting serious with desalination. There you’ll find a madcap multimedia mashup of links to articles, papers, pdfs, videos, and audio on an often discussed but little understood topic.

Too many among us believe that desalination is the answer to current and future water shortage issues–an attitude which attributes to a blind faith in technology and a desire to get on with the day without having to think of anything depressing.

While we certainly want you to have a nice day, we also want to help spread the word that deploying desalination on the scale necessary to even partially mitigate our dwindling water resources is a tremendously complex, expensive, and environmentally risky undertaking.

Why take’s word for it? Check out a fantastic article (also listed in our resources below) by Debbie Cook, water and energy expert, and former mayor of Huntington Beach, CA. (The barely readable graph above that compares the energy requirements of desalination to other water sources is from the article–where it is legible.) She says: Turning ocean water into municipal drinking water:

. . .Sounds great until you zoom in on the environmental costs and energetic consequences. It may be technically feasible, but in the end it is unsustainable and will be just one more stranded asset.

Other Resources (full list here):

A February 2009 article about the current state of desalination in California. As of 2007, 20 water agencies have been considering and/or developing desalination options. The article is a good introduction to the arguments put forward by proponents and opponents of large-scale desalination plants. There is a bonus nifty diagram, complete with map of proposed California desal facilities.

A HowStuffWorks video,  a good basic introduction except that it never mentions the drawbacks to desalination and makes it all seem very simple. Interesting segment about the Santa Catalina island desal facility, which makes desalination appear to be nothing but an upgrade to paradise.

From, “the website for the water and wastewater industry,” a comprehensive look at the (drum roll) Global Water Awards’ 2006 ‘Desalination Plant of the Year’ : the Ashkelon Desalination Plant in Israel. While  a PR piece created to get potential customers and investors all hot and bothered about desal’s potential, the article also reveals the mind-boggling technological complexity behind the dream of  desalination and drives home the fact that we’re talking about massive, power-hungry, environment-threatening, ugly-assed industrial complexes–and can thus be cited by opponents as arguments against themselves.

A Google video about the Ashkelon Desal Plant. An upbeat report with nary a negative word about industrial-scale desal plants. A highlight is a visitor to the facility,  the 88-year-old Sydney Loeb, who partnered with another student researcher in the 60’s to “perfect” the reverse osmosis process. I don’t know what “perfect” means in this context. If they’d perfected the process, it would be in wide-spread use by now.

Desalination: Energy Down the Drain. The title of this data- and link-rich article by Debbie Cook, former mayor of Huntington Beach, CA, kinda gives away her position on the topic. In 2003, she was invited to serve on the California Desalination Task Force, a legislatively mandated effort by the Department of Water Resources to study desalination facilities and “report on potential opportunities and impediments…” Her experience from then on turned her into a self-confessed water-obsessive, deeply concerned about the relationship between water and finite energy resources.  She’s unequivocal: “It is my knowledge of our energy and resource constraints that leads me to reject ocean desalination as the water of our future.” This is posted on The Oil Drum, the stated mission of which is “. . .to facilitate civil, evidence-based discussions about energy and its impact on our future.”


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