Getting serious with desalination

Just as we promised: A compendium of links to online resources about desalination that will be regularly updated. No, really. That’s the whole point. Most recent update: 4/12/09.

Update, 4/12/09

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 plant 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.

Desalination: Energy Down the Drain. The title of this 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 a great, data-rich article with lots of links that 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.
Update, 9/9/08, California desalination articles from Aquafornia

  • Maybe not everything you want to know about the current state of desalination in the biggest water-wasting political entity on the planet, but it will keep you busy and up to the minute.

Basic and/or general information

  • In April 2008, The (U.S.) National Research Council released an important report about the current state of desalination in the U.S. You can go here to read it online or download the PDF. You can also read or download the executive summary, and there is even a podcast summary.
  • Two nicely produced and fairly current white papers produced by the World Wildlife Fund: This one, 53 pages of well-organized basic information, is a June 2007 global assessment that begins by asking if desalination is an option or a distraction from conservation-based solutions. The WWF concludes it’s both, if more the latter than the former. This one, entitled Rich Countries, Poor Water, provides 32-pages of information about the looming fresh water crises in wealthy developed countries which are exhausting and contaminating their water supplies, degrading the water ecosystem, failing to coordinate water management which is causing water related conflicts.
  • Video: A 90-minute Google video of a talk by Kevin Price of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on desalination. After watching this you will be able to join as a senior fellow. Elevator summary: We’re in trouble and desalination is not the sole solution, but part of a comprehensive plan that includes conservation, reuse, transfers, etc. (powerpoint here price.ppt)
  • Video below: Part I of 4 of an interview of water expert Heather Cooley of the Pacific Institute by one doofus of a show host. He’s lame, she’s sharp and informative. Go to YouTube for Parts 2-4.
  • A concise summary article on desalination, perfect for you kids out there doing that last-minute assignment for science class that’s due tomorrow! Careful, no plagiarizing! The teacher will catch you, because, believe it or not, teachers know more than you.
  • From WaterWebster, a comprehensive site about water, but kinda unscrupulous. Lots of links to information about desalination to be sure, but the site uses frames to create the erroneous impression that the linked sites are associated with WaterWebster. Beware dead links as well.
  • A brief—very brief, maybe too brief—history of desalination, included here because of its links to nice and concise definitions of the state-of-the-art desal processes, such as multi-stage flash, multiple effect, membrane-based, etc. (You can read more about those in the paper from the California Coastal Commission above.)

Pro Desalination

  • A generally positive assessment of desalination
  • Video: When a couple of young studs strut around with a video camera at Miami Beach interviewing bikini-clad young women, what immediately comes to mind? Yes, you salty dog–desalination! The lads over-the-top enthusiasm for their favorite method of collecting fresh water may be in part related to the fact that GE is paying them to romp and rave.

Con Desalination

*The following is a video of a talk by Heather Cooley of the Pacific Institute titled Desalination: With a Grain of Salt. A pdf of a report with the same name can be downloaded from the institute’s site.

The Tampa Bay Experience

Desal in California and the Southwest

The Business of Desalination
The line between desalination as a topic and business is hard to draw. Desalination—in the U.S. at any rate—is big business. The articles linked in this section are from a business perspective, i.e., the imminent water crisis is an opportunity.

  • Plus way cool graphics! The company’s site is as good a gateway as any into the world of big water business. Become a water baron! The folks at this newsletter site–called Whiskey & Gunpowder for no readily discernible reason–want to help you get rich by investing in the big water plays to come! Why they want to help you get rich rather than hogging all the opportunities is as puzzling as their name.

Low-Tech Desalination Devices


2 Responses

  1. Hi,

    My name is Joseph Puentes and I’m an environmental podcaster ( I’d like to offer my volunteer help at starting a WaterBlogged podcast. I am not financially motivated in this offer because I am trying to help get more audio presentations on our precious water resources out to a very needy public. I will help record, edit, tag with your information and upload the audio to I’ll then supply you with the direct URL location of the audio so you can post it to your blog/website page.

    Can I talk to you further about this?



    Joseph Puentes (Environment Podcast) (Blog for above) (Women’s Peace Podcast) (Latin American History Podcast) (Jalisco, Zacatecas, and Aguascalientes Genealogy)

  2. Jared,

    Food & Water Watch (a spin-off of Public Citizen, which I see that you reference) has a ton of information on water issues, especially desalination. Earlier in the year we released Desalination: An Ocean of Problems and we are actively fighting several desal facilities across the country:

    In addition to the fights that you mention, you should also add a potential facility in northeast Florida to your list. Email me for more info on that.

    Also–as a comms person for FWW, I read a lot of policy blogs and I have to say that yours is on of my favorites (and no, I’m not just saying that so you’ll link to us…)

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