Waterblogged.info’s New Year’s Resolutions!

Like the “Fifty things to do before you die” lists, New Year’s resolutions are driven by a nagging, narcissistic dissatisfaction that feels an awful lot like guilt. But the “fifty things” lists are more ambitious than the typical beginning-of-the-year vows to go to the gym five times a week and organize your iTunes library. They’re usually based on the premise that you’re, if not affluent, at least comfortably middle-class, and are convinced that no life is well lived until one has, for example, scaled K2, jammed on a violin over the Hungarian minor scale with a blown-away Yo Yo Ma, taught English to the grateful inhabitants of Lesotho, made perfect soft-boiled eggs at several different altitudes, and impressed residents of Beijing with flawless Mandarin.

Of course, the must-do lists of the billion or so poor of the planet are no doubt less ambitious but more immediate: Get access to clean water before I die, eat before I die, get decent medical care before I die, etc. Everything’s relative.

This year, I’ve decided to come up with a hybrid of the two sorts of list, water related of course: Ten New Year’s Resolutions to Do Before I Die. Rather than just bore the reader with my self-involved and possibly grandiose goals, I’ve linked each item to a compelling–and in some cases fascinating–bit of information about everyone’s favorite sugar-free beverage.

  1. Collaborate with Dr. Peter Gleick to put a stop to the gargantuan, insane, destined-to-fail desalination project moving relentlessly forward in Southern California.
  2. Help Matt Damon move mountains.
  3. Get myself appointed Obama’s special peace envoy to broker settlements to supposedly imminent water wars.
  4. Work feverishly with NASA scientists to figure out how to efficiently transport moon water to Earth.
  5. Save the salmon!
  6. Fish for Asian carp in the Great Lakes.
  7. Work with Willie Nelson to develop an iPhone app version of his home water-from-air system.
  8. Jet-ski the Golden Age Lake!
  9. Join up with Food & Water Watch. (This may be the only attainable goal on this list.)
  10. Not go for months without posting.
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Waterblogged.info is slammed!

fandWWWhat does a water blog worthy of the name do when the editor-in-chief is slogging through the swamp of endless demands that constitutes an annoying yet relatively lucrative day gig? Why, said water blog links to a really great site like Food & Water Watch–and lets said really great site do the heavy lifting.

But Waterblogged.info, asks the intrigued reader, what is Food & Water Watch all about? Say, intrigued reader, isn’t that what About pages are for? So I don’t personally have to explain every little thing to you? I’m on deadline here.

I can say that, unlike the weepy whiners here at Waterblogged.info, the folks at F&WW are activists, and only to happy to help you be one, too.

Good stuff, with a pile of information about all sorts of water issues.

Regional focus: Tampa Bay water follies

Evernote TampaJorge Aguilar of Alternet has written an article about Tampa Bay’s apparently doomed attempts to use ocean desalination as a panacea for its current and future water deficits. (Go to my public Evernote folder on Tampa Bay water that has links to several Florida news articles about Tampa Bay’s travails. Clicking on a story will get you an unformatted hodgepodge with the actual story buried at the bottom. Click “go to source” directly under the headline to see the original page.

To get a sense of the technological challenges presented by ocean desal, see the narrated slide show A Tour of Tampa Bay’s Desalination Plant, written and narrated by Cynthia Barnett, a journalist who specializes in Florida water issues. )

From Aguilar’s article:

In its first major decision, Tampa Bay Water decided in 1999 to allow several private firms to build, own and operate a 25-million-gallon-per-day [desalination] plant that would supply up to 15% of the area’s water needs. So far, it has been a disastrous venture. The plant went online in 2008 – six years later than scheduled and $40 million over budget.  It has rarely run at full capacity to this day. In fact, Tampa Bay took ownership of the plant after two of the firms in charge of completing the plant went bankrupt.  In March of 2009, the desalination plant, now operated by a subsidiary of the German multinational RWE, had to be shut down again after yet another malfunction.

But that isn’t all.

Tampa Bay area residents, in the midst of a major five-year drought, recently found out that Tampa Bay Water’s other major project, the four year old C.W. Bill Young Reservoir – designed specifically to safeguard for droughts – has major cracks that may take two years to fix and cost over $125 million to repair.

The $125-million projected cost is almost as much as the reservoir cost to build, and there is no reason to think that it won’t be more.

Nickel day at Waterblogged.info! (with free desalination cartoons for those who read until the end!)

The Big Nickel in the Nickel City

The Big Nickel in the Nickel City

Pop quiz: What’s the “hidden metal”? If you answered “nickel,” you’re right, but how did you know, and what the heck does it mean? Based on its web site’s banner, The Nickel Institute knows–and I bet they’d tell you for a nickel.

The banner also states that the modest mineral is the “ubiquitous metal” and the “enviro-metal!” The trade organization’s online journal, creatively named Nickel Magazine, is a treasure chest spilling over with nickel nomenclature and knowledge, including this article about nickel’s profitable place in the future of desalination technology.

The article is targeted at nickel industry insiders who can’t get enough comparative data about nickel alloys, so it’s really not for anyone who’s read this far and still thinks a nickel is just five cents and what’s the fuss. Not surprisingly, the writer concludes that currently available data “. . .confirms nickel-containing alloys as both essential and in growing demand for the complex industrial process of making potable water from seawater.”

The image is of the aptly named Big Nickel, a landmark of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, nickelnamed the Nickel City. The city of 160,000 or so inhabitants modestly traces its history back 2-billion years, when the area it occupies was ground zero for what is possibly the planet’s largest and most catastrophic meterorite hit. But there’s always a silver lining, or in this case nickel plating: The meteorite kicked up massive amounts of subterranean minerals–including one that the reader is possibly tiring of–kindly leaving it for the fine folks of Subbury to mine, once they evolved, became civilized, and developed technology.

A brief NPR segment from August 2007, that discusses the state of desalination in the state of California. A basic–maybe too basic–introduction to the concept of reverse osmosis.

An article about desalination in Australia on Aboutmyplanet.com, by Sherry Obenaur.  Good because it presents a pretty comprehensive list of both the pros and cons.

Desalination cartoons. Really.

Yet another Waterblogged.info 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 Waterblogged.info: 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 Waterblogged.info 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 Waterblogged.info’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 Water-technology.net, “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.”

Breaking news: Company that builds desalination plants defends desalination!

[Below, following this absurdly long note, is a comment on Waterblogged.info’s 3/16/09 post, Desalination: No silver bullet in the Middle East, which links to a National Geographic story that is essentially a skeptical–and reasonable–look at desalination as the solution to the constant droughts and the shortage and maldistribution of water in the Middle East. The email address of the person who left the comment indicates that he/she works for Water Consultants, Inc–a company that can hardly be considered a disinterested party when it comes to debating the pros and cons of industrial-scale desalination.

The editor in chief of Waterblogged.info realized that our response was so incisive, informative, wise, and witty–not to mention self-important, defensive, derogatory, snide, and judgmental–that it could easily be repurposed as a Waterblogged.info entry! Cut and paste and take the rest of the day off! See end of post for more exciting desal info!]

Thanks to the Pacific Institute, http://www.pacinst.org/

Thanks to the Pacific Institute, http://www.pacinst.org/

The corporate shill says:

Your link to the referenced NatGeo article is broken. Pity I would have loved to read who the so-called “experts” were that think that way about desalination plants. Most desalination plants are good environmental citizens, properly regulated and diligently operated where ever they are needed to be a valuable asset to a communities balanced portfolio of water supply options.

Thanks to the PR flak from Water Consultants International, Inc–a company whose business is, per its site, “planning, design and implementation of advanced water treatment (AWT), and membrane and thermal desalination projects”–for pointing out the broken link, which I fixed.

Thanks also for the breathtakingly perfect example of corporate-speak–marred only by garbled syntax, a misspelling, and at least one punctuation and one grammatical error. Not bad for 60 words.

It would be fair to take Waterblogged.info or any other blog to task for referring to “experts” without citing anyone specific. But, National Geographic? Cut me a break.

Hey dude, you want “experts” without the quotation marks? Well, I’ll give you experts without the quotation marks: the fine folk at the Pacific Institute (PI), headed up by Peter Gleick,  one of the nation’s foremost authorities on water. In the institute’s recent report, Desalination, With a Grain of Salt: A California Perspective, the researchers’ take a moderate and cautious position on desalination, one most likely held by the experts dismissed by our pen-pal from WCI. From PI’s site:

The potential benefits of ocean desalination are great, but the economic, cultural, and environmental costs of wide commercialization remain high. In many parts of the world, alternatives can provide the same freshwater benefits of ocean desalination at far lower economic and environmental costs. These alternatives include treating low-quality local water sources, encouraging regional water transfers, improving conservation and efficiency, accelerating wastewater recycling and reuse, and implementing smart land-use planning.

For a humongous amount of information on desal–both fer and agin’–go to Waterblogged.info’s page Getting serious with Waterblogged.info: desalination. There you will find links to papers, articles, videos, and pdfs, that will help you be the center of attention at the next beer-bash when desalination inevitably comes up. A good beginning is a mutimedia presentation by journalist and water expert, Cynthia Barnett, A Tour of Tampa Bay’s Desalination Plant.

Waterblogged.info’s desalination update!


Scroll down to view yet another slew of useful Web resources about everyone’s favorite using-technology-as-a-panacea-for-averting-catastrophe solution: Desalination! These will be duly added to our ever-expanding compendium, Getting serious with Waterblogged.info: desalination. We note that recent developments appear to indicate that proponents of reverse osmosis (RO) are being challenged here and there by desal technologies based on solar distillation and deionization.

We’re on record as not being big on massive-scale desalination here at Waterblogged.info. At least not RO, which is energy-intensive, environmentally destructive, and excessively complicated.

Today’s idiosyncratic, ecentric rant from the picky people who bring you Waterblogged.info: Reverse osmosis (RO) is from our point of view, a misleading misnomer. Osmosis is a basic, natural process; so-called reverse osmosis is really power-assisted filtration. Why do we call it osmosis? There’s nothing osmotic about it. Just had to get that off our chests.

More desalination resources on the web:

Desalination: A National Perspective: A 2008 comprehensive report on the current state and prospects for desalination in the U.S. from the National Research Council

Here’s an accompanying podcast:

Experimental desalination plants based on deionization being built in Australia: From online outlet of techie journal IEEE Spectrum

The World View Desalination Project: A commercial venture that aim to develop, in their words, a scalable desalination and purifying system powered by the sun. Looks at first glance like a passive system based on distillation and use of recycled plastic.

A blog entry on the Carlsbad desalination project recently approved for Southern California: A San Francisco Bay Area blogger has doubts about the efficacy of what will be the largest desal plant in North America.

Seawater Greenhouse: Another commercial venture that uses a passive distillation method to desalinate ocean water and produce mini-climates for horticulture.

Teatro del agua: Visionary project proposed for the Canary Islands. A combination water desalination plant and beautiful outdoor theater. Our chief archivist just realized that we’d already posted something about this, linking from the glorious Pruned. YouTube marketing video here.

Relatively recent invention of more efficient? desalination membrane technology: Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science today (11/06/06) announced they have developed a new reverse osmosis (RO) membrane that promises to reduce the cost of seawater desalination and wastewater reclamation. A startup, NanoH2O, is betting on this technology. An MIT Technology Review article and an Economist article assess the new technology and mention NanoH2O.

The Perth, Australia reverse osmosis desalination plant: The largest in the Southern hemisphere and when at total capacity will supply 17% of Perth’s water.

NPR’s All Thing’s Considered on the state of desalination in California: Great overview of the 18 or so desalination projects underway or scheduled in the mega state.