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Green Ribbon Reports

Spring 2009

Desalination...A Piece of the Solution?

Over 97.5 percent of our nation’s water supply is salt water, leaving only 2.5 percent for human use. The constant search for new sources of water has led California to explore and invest in desalination.
The interest in desalination has erupted again as California faces drastic water cutbacks. Over 60 percent of desalination plants are located in the Middle East and only 12 percent in the Americas. A very limited number of plants are located on the California coast primarily because of the opposition to desalination from the environmental community.

However, due to drought conditions and water availability, desalination projects are being proposed at numerous locations in the state.

Desalination is a process, which removes dissolved minerals from seawater, brackish water, or treated wastewater. There are several Tampa Bay desalination plant was built next door to the Big Bend Power Plant, which provides source of water and energy.methods that have been developed for desalination, with reverse osmosis (RO) being the most promising. The high cost of desalination has kept it from being used more often, as it can cost over $1,000 per acre-foot. Increases in technology have helped drop the price of desalination, while other more traditional water sources have increased, due to lack of reliable water conveyance and supply.

As many look to the promising emergence of desalination, the environmental community continues to argue that we “cannot just put a straw in the ocean” to solve California’s water crisis. State and federal agencies have put huge environmental permitting processes in place to block many desalination plants from coming to fruition.

While desalinating seawater may not be of great use to California farmers it may make our heavily populated coastal communities water independent, therefore reducing the need for river and lake water. It is not reasonable for farmers to simply pray and hope for rain each year as our government remains stalled and continues to only study ways of solving the lack of water while demand is continuing to increase.

In summary, the benefits of the desalination of seawater for the state are great. It may not be the ultimate solution to our water problems, but it will be a piece of the puzzle to solving the management of our water.

California can’t rely on only one source or one solution to fulfill the needs of the state; therefore we must look at different alternatives to ensure our state continues to flourish and the west does not go dry. ■

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