A Guide to Water Conservation – Saving Water and the Earth
Water conservation is the careful use and preservation of water supply, and it includes both the quantity and quality of water utilized. Water is an essential asset for the nourishment of all life. The fundamental demand for all activities appropriates local use to the agricultural industry.
With the regular expanding weight of the human population, there has been serious tension on water resources. Negligence of customary water bodies like tanks and lakes, unpredictable abuse of groundwater, and incorrect preservation of surface water systems have bothered the issue. Still further and is no doubt going to grow in the years to come.
There are various approaches to making your water last nowadays. One simple yet often disregarded strategy to cut your water bill is to use your water twice. Unlike electricity, you can reuse water again and again. That’s the idea of water conservation.
Key Facts about our water:
Water is the most important natural resource that living things need. But at the same time, it has also been misused and wasted. To better grasp the full significance of water conservation, take a look at the few yet key facts about water:
-The average adult human body comprises 50-65 percent of water. They are averaging around 57-60 percent. With infants, they have a higher percentage. Often around 75-78% water, dropping to 65% by one year.
-The Earth has a limited amount of water. The water we have now is all we get, and it is recycled repeatedly. The water cycle can help you understand this condition.
-Water is the basic demand for every food. It grows our fruits and vegetable, and each livestock consumes it.
-A plant’s life is dependent on water. Plants help the ecosystem and produce the oxygen necessary to keep us healthy. Additionally, trees are generally used for housing, paper, and a lot more.
-Ninety-seven percent (97%) of all water on Earth is saltwater- that is not suitable for drinking.
-Only three percent (3%) of water on Earth is freshwater. Only 0.5% is available is suitable for drinking.
-The other 2.5% of freshwater is found in glaciers, ice caps, the atmosphere, soil, or under the Earth’s surface or is too polluted for consumption.
What is Water Conservation?
To point out, even more, Water Conservation is the practice of efficiently preserving, controlling, and managing water resources.
Water conservation has become an essential practice in every part of the world, even in regions where water appears to be enough. It is the most practical and environment-friendly approach to lessen our need for water. Likewise, using less water puts less weight on our sewage treatment facilities, which use an ample amount of energy for heating water.
Main reasons to conserve water:
-Conserving water saves energy. Energy is important to filter, heat, and pump water to your home, so lessening your water use likewise decreases your carbon traces.
-Consuming less water keeps more in our environments and aids with keeping wetland habitats best for creatures like otters, water voles, herons, and fish. This is particularly significant during dry season periods.
-Conserving water can save you money. If you have a water meter, the less water you use, the less you might be charged by your water company.
For the past 50 years, freshwater extraction from icebergs has expanded by three folds. Because of progression in life, a more significant amount of water is a need. This likewise implies a growth in the interest for the power supply with water.
Conserving water can likewise make the life of your septic system longer. This is by lessening soil immersion and reducing any contamination because of leaks. Overloading municipal sewer systems can also flow untreated sewage to lakes and rivers. The smaller the amount of water coursing through these systems, the lower the probability of contamination. Even the few groups like the community-wide domestic water preservation avoided the expensive sewage system development.
What are the Water-Related Problems?
The main problems with water are water shortage, shortages of clean water, and waterborne diseases. A lack of access to safe water caused 80% of all deaths worldwide. More than 5 million people die each year from water-related diseases such as hepatitis A, dysentery, and severe diarrhea.
Approximately 900 million to 1.1 billion people worldwide lack clean drinking water, and 2.4 billion lack basic sanitation. Water demand is increasing at a rate faster than population growth. Over the past 70 years, while the world’s population has tripled, water demand has increased sixfold. The United Nations estimates that in 2025 that 5 billion of the world’s 8 billion people will live in areas where water is scarce. Many of these people will have difficulty accessing enough water to meet their basic needs.
Increasing populations, growing agriculture, industrialization, and high living standards have boosted water demand. All this while drought, overuse, and pollution have decreased the supplies. To make up for this shortfall, water is often taken from lakes, rivers, and wetlands, causing serious environmental damage. According to a 2003 United Nations report, “Across the globe, groundwater is being depleted by the demands of megacities and agriculture, while fertilizer runoff and pollution are threatening water quality and public health.”
It seems there are alarming predictions every week related to water, such as disease, crop disasters, starvation, famines, and war. Safe drinking water and sanitation are major challenges in many developing countries, from shanty towns and areas to urban poor cities. At least in rural areas, the poor can dig wells and take care of the sanitation in their fields.
The causes of much of the pollution in rural areas are untreated sewage resulting from a lack of toilets and sewers. Salts, fertilizers, and pesticides from irrigated land contaminate the flowing water and groundwater supplies and the saltwater entering overused aquifers. Places with sewers often have no wastewater treatment facilities while the sewage becomes dumped right into the water supplies, a source from which people draw.
Agriculture-related pollution such as fertilizer, pesticides, animal wastes, herbicides, salts from evaporated irrigation water, and silt from deforestation washes into the streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, and the sea. This agricultural runoff sometimes severs creating “dead zones” in coastal water zones.
Industry-related water pollution comes from mining and manufacturing toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Power plant emissions then create acid rain that contaminates the surface water.
People often bathe, wash their clothes, and swim in disgusting water. They also drink the water of uncertain quality from ponds and streams used by animals.
The water and air around the cities are polluted, and the water shortages and quality in rural areas are still rampant.
Many countries worldwide face serious water shortages with its root not really about the shortage of water but of overpopulation. The worse one to know is knowing people living in places where it is unfit for human habitation. Often, water shortages are local problems rather than national ones. Water shortages are worse in areas with little rain or water and lots of people.
Repeated drilling and well building caused the water table to drop in some places as much as six feet a year. This is the reason water tables are falling almost everywhere. Rich countries can compensate for these shortages in some areas by building dams, tapping deep water aquifers, importing food, recycling wastewater, or desalinating seawater. Unfortunately, developing countries are vulnerable to doing these things.
Water shortage is also a big problem in many cities. Water is only turned on a couple of times a day for about half an hour each time. People with money can have special storage tanks to collect water during those times. This can allow them to have water around the clock. People without storage tanks collect water in jugs and buckets and often take bucket baths when water is not turned on.
Global warming can worsen these water shortages in some places and create water shortages in other places.
Solutions to Water Problems
There are major disagreements between environmentalists and agriculturists on managing available water. But, water experts say that progress made in cleaning water and making it cheap has only encouraged people to waste it.
However, the goal of planners in solving water problems is to keep water cheap so poor people can get it but at the same time keep it expensive, so people don’t waste it. In places where water is subsidized, people tend to waste it due to the low prices. The obvious solution was to end the subsidies.
The most practical solution is reusing and recycling water. Some cities can meet a fifth of their water needs by recycling water. Worldwide, two-thirds of urban water don’t get treated. Systems that treat and reuse water are often the least costly. The most efficient way to clean water but have difficulty overcoming the aversion is to have drinking water derived from sewage.
Ultraviolet radiation is a popular means of disinfecting water but is less effective when the water contains sediments and sludge. For places where water is collected from dirty ponds and lakes, people have to clean it by folding clean clothes several times before placing them over a jug as the water pours through it. The cloth acts as a filter from all sorts of disease-causing organisms.
Women in Bangladesh have done the said process, not out of necessity but out of tradition. But instead of using cloth, they used cotton to remove the course debris. The best way to employ this method is to fold the cloth to four or eight thicknesses, wash, then sun dry the cloth after each filtering. At least in this method, it can remove the zooplankton that carries diseases such as cholera.
Water Conservation As A Solution
These old and tried and true methods are being brought back to conserve water through harvesting, transporting, and storing rainwater. These methods are brought back because modern technology can’t solve problems in small communities. Systems that use catchments, gutters and other channels, storage tanks, and gravity or pump-driven delivery systems. These are cheaper or at least equal in cost to drilling and building a well.
Raised ridges to 10 meters wide alternate with shallow canals to channel water. They are either harvested rain or deviated river water. This helps water crops, stores heat, and keeps the fields warm on cold nights.
Saving WATER Really is IMPORTANT!
Since safe and clean water is limited, people have access to freshwater. They can take steps to control their water consumption to avoid waste and shortage. We know that the planet is mostly covered with saltwater. And can only be consumed after undergoing a desalination process, which is quite expensive. Saving water means a lot to humans and all the species on Earth.
Events such as droughts further limit access to clean and fresh water. This means that people need to take extra steps to reduce water use and save as much water as possible. In some areas of the world, access to water is limited due to contamination.
Water is Life!
Everything on Earth requires water to sustain itself. But abusing it means reducing its ability to provide us with this basic necessity. Water is a limited resource. While Earth is a self-contained ecosystem, the planet always has, and will always have, the same amount of water. The population growth puts a strain on water supplies. And clean water is reduced by the pollution, and contamination humankind creates.
People are particularly reducing the water supply due to pollution. So as other contaminants. On top of that, we are polluting the water for all of Earth’s creatures, sending chemicals like oil and fertilizers through the rivers. These ultimately end up in the ocean.
Without freshwater, one will die in just a short period. It is a simple yet morbid fact that helps drive the point across, and water is life. Water conservation is the potential, most cost-effective, and environmentally sound way to reduce water demand.
The Why and How of Water Conservation
Using the limited water supply wisely and caring for it properly are just a few of the many keys to conserving water. Remember that we have limited availability of water supply. This means that we do not have an endless amount of water. Keep in mind that it is our responsibility to understand and learn more about water conservation. Even so, find ways to help keep the resources pure and safe for the coming generations.
Saving Water Saves Energy
A lot of energy is required to treat water and supply it to your home—the same as a tremendous amount of water expected to cool the power plants that produce electricity.
At home, heating water for showers, shaving, cooking, and cleaning likewise uses a lot of energy.
That is why it’s imperative to recollect to save energy and water in your home. We tend to have longer, hotter showers as the climate gets colder. By placing a water-efficient shower and lessening the time spent in the shower, you can spare energy and water.
One of the best means to save energy across the region and in your own house is to use water more effectively.
Did you know that?
-Heated water utilizes 39% of energy in the typical home.
-Washing your garments in cold water can decrease energy use by up to 80% compared with a warm wash stack.
-Putting up a water-efficient showerhead can lessen your expenses by up to $100 every year.
Saving Water Saves Money
Using less water makes your money in your pocket. You may be able to save thousands of gallons of water every year by applying basic water conservation strategies.
For instance, you have your well and septic system, the extra gallons of water released each day will soak the soil in the septic system absorption field to a point where extensive repair or replacement is necessary.
Conserving water can extend the system’s life and delay the need for repair. If you live in an area serviced by a municipal water system, the greater your water use, the more you pay for water.
Also, water conservation can help prevent water pollution. Overloading a septic system may cause nutrient and bacterial contamination. Of nearby lakes, streams, and drinking water, even the water from your well. The smaller the amount of water flowing through these systems, the lower the likelihood of pollution.
Pollution costs money, too. Excessive weed growth in a lake caused by mineral enrichment from poorly functioning septic systems often means costly weed control measures paid for by you and your neighbors. If they can be repaired at all, Polluted home water wells can cost thousands of dollars to fix.
Saving Water Saves Nature
Saving water likewise decreases the risk of natural disasters such as droughts. We have to reuse water in the same number as we’re likely to save a more significant amount of it.
Saving water turns out to be critical for up-and-coming generations. They won’t have enough water accessibility unless we wind up worried from this day at present.
We have to save water for plants as well. Earth’s oxygen and a large portion of the food originate from plants. Plants require water for survival as well.
As the world modernizes, a greater amount of water is to be utilized to beautify urban communities and for recreational reasons. We have to consider it too.
What Can You Do?
We have first to understand that the preservation of water is the obligation of each person. It is to be done as a whole. No government authority or institution can help us save water unless we desire to. Right now is a high time to do so.
Reducing water use reduces the energy required to process and deliver it to homes, businesses, farms, and communities. Which in turn helps to reduce pollution and conserve fuel resources.
Cutting off the wastage of water will enable us to keep up the artistry of a city. Additionally, protecting our natural ecosystems from further damage is critical, especially for the survival of some endangered species. The great pacific garbage patch is a great example of the worst side of our wasteful practices.
There are many efficient approaches to preserve water in and around your home. Look through this rundown for ways that will work for you.
Here are demonstrated means to conserve more water:
In the Kitchen
-Don’t leave the water running for rinsing whenever you wash the dishes by hand—it is the ideal way. If you have two sinks, fill one with rinse water. If you just have one sink, use a shower gadget instead of giving the water a chance to run. This saves 200 to 500 gallons every month.
-When washing the dishes by hand, use a minimal detergent as much as possible. This limits the rinse water needed. This saves 50 to 150 gallons every month.
-Make sure not to defrost frozen foods with running water. Either prepare in advance by putting frozen things in the icebox or refrigerator overnight. Or defrost them in the microwave. This saves 50 to 150 gallons every month.
-Make sure not to run the faucet while you clean vegetables. Wash them in a filled sink or container. This saves 150 to 250 gallons every month.
-Keep a container or bottle of drinking water in the fridge. This beats the inefficient tendency for running tap water to cool it for drinking. This saves 200 to 300 gallons every month.
-Cook foods in less water. This keeps the nutritional value of the food as well.
In the Bathroom
-When taking a shower, don’t misuse the cold water while sitting tight for hot water to reach the showerhead. In a container/ pail, catch that water to water the plants outside or flush in your toilet. This saves 200 to 300 gallons every month.
-Examine the toilet for leaks. Place dye tablets or food coloring into the tank. If the color shows up in the bowl without flushing, there is certainly a leak that ought to be repaired. This saves 400 gallons per month.
-Make doubly sure your toilet is an ultra-low volume flush model which utilizes only one and a half gallons each flush.
-Make sure to turn off the water or faucet while brushing your teeth. This saves three gallons every day.
-Don’t Use the Toilet as an Ashtray or Wastebasket. Every time you flush a cigarette butt, facial tissue, or other small bits of trash, you’re wasting gallons of water. Put them in the proper garbage bin.
-Take Shorter Showers. One way to cut down on water use is to turn off the shower after soaping up, then turn it back on to rinse. A four-minute shower uses approximately 20 to 40 gallons of water.
In the Laundry Room
A high-efficiency washer is ideal for saving water in the laundry room. It uses less water than the traditional washer. Likewise, it will eliminate more water from the clothes before drying, bringing about shorter dry times. Here are a couple of different tips for saving water in the laundry room:
-Run the washer only when you have a full load.
-To cut your dry time, use wool dryer balls.
-Allow stained clothes to soak the sink in advance, so they don’t have to be washed twice.
In the Yard or Garden
-Avoid watering the lawn on windy days. There’s excessive evaporation. This can waste up to 300 gallons in a single watering.
-It is better to water during the cool parts of the day. Preferably in the early morning to keep from the development of an organism. This saves 300 gallons.
-If you have a pool, utilize a pool cover to eliminate evaporation. Likewise, it will keep your pool cleaner and lessen the need to include chemicals. This saves 1,000 gallons every month.
-Using a pail of soapy water, clean the car and make sure to drive it onto a lawn. The water used can help water the grass at the same time. Only use the hose for rinsing – this easy practice can save as much as 150 gallons when washing a car.
-Minimize watering on cool and cloudy days and not water in the rain. Change or deactivate automatic sprinklers. This can save up to 300 gallons each time.
-Put a layer of mulch around trees and plants. Pieces of bark, peat greenery, or rock gradually slow down evaporation. This saves 750 to 1,500 gallons every month.
-Avoid toys that need constant running water. Rather, use a little pool to enjoy water outside, or use sports-related toys and remote-controlled gadgets.
-When washing hands, turn off the sink while kids are soaping up.
-Try not to let children flush tissues or other things down the toilet. In addition to the fact that this is inefficient, it can cause serious plumbing issues. Urge your children to use a wastebasket for tissues and other daily essentials they might be lured to flush.
-If your children have a pet fish, reuse the water from the tank as food for your houseplants instead of draining it.
-When washing the dog, ensure you wash them in an area of the yard that requires water so you can carry out two tasks at once. Be sure the soap you use is safe for plants.
-Train kids to consistently turn the faucets firmly to avoid drips and unnecessary water waste.
-Tell your kids not to play with the garden hose. This saves 10 gallons every moment.
-Whenever you allow your kids to play in the sprinklers, ensure it’s just when you’re watering the yard. Suppose it’s not very cool around that time of day.
Saving Water in Special Conditions
At some point, it is necessary to use extra measures to reduce the amount of water you consume at home. Although suitable for any situation, these techniques may be especially helpful. When water levels are high around your house, your community water system temporarily loses the capacity to supply adequate amounts of water. You should consider these changes:
-Use much around trees and shrubs and in garden beds. They significantly reduce the amount of water lost through evaporation and reduce the need for watering.
-Consider using a drip irrigation system in your garden. It supplies water only to the root zones of plants and reduces weeding because it doesn’t water areas between crop rows and hills.
-Use only plant varieties that are well adapted to your locality and soil conditions. Less suitable varieties may need more fertilizer or water to live.
-Use the water from your roof downspouts for watering your garden and flower beds.
Other Water Conservation Practices
Agricultural Water Conservation Practices
Water-saving irrigation system practices have three categories: field practices, management techniques, and system modifications. These practices include the chisel plow aeration of highly compacted soils, furrow diking to keep from uncontrolled overflow, and leveling of the land surface to distribute water equally.
Improved irrigation scheduling can reduce the amount of water needed to irrigate a crop successfully by decreasing evaporative losses and providing water when generally required by the irrigated plants. And applying the water in a way most appropriate to the irrigated plants. A prudent decision of the irrigation rate and timing can help farmers keep up yields with less water. In settling on scheduling choices, irrigators ought to consider:
-The unpredictable rainfall and the timing of crop water demands.
-The restricted water storage limit of many irrigated soils.
-The limited pumping capacity of most irrigation systems.
-The cost of water and changes in water costs as extra operators increase water demand.
Management procedures include monitoring soil and water conditions and gathering water use and efficiency data. The techniques incorporate estimating rainfall, determining soil moisture levels, checking pumping plant productivity, and scheduling water systems. Usual system adjustments involve the expansion of drop tubes to a center pivot water system, upgrading wells with smaller pumps, installing a surge or demand water system, and building a tail-water or return flow recovery system.
Industrial and Commercial Consumers Water Conservation Practices
Water recycling is the reuse of water for a similar application for which it was initially used. Recycled water may require treatment before it tends to be reused. Cooling water distribution and washwater recycling are the most broadly used water recycling practices. The accompanying rules ought to be used when considering water reuse and recycling in industrial and commercial applications:
-Identification of water reuse possibilities: Are there zones inside the manufacturing plant or in the production process that presently use water just once that would be agreeable to reuse?
-Determination of the base water amount required for the given use: Are there areas inside the plant or in the production process where more water is being provided than is expected to achieve the purpose?
-Identification of wastewater sources that fulfill the water quality standards: Does the process require consumable water or water of lesser quality? Can a similar outcome be accomplished with lower-quality water?
-Determination of how the water can be shipped to the new use: What adjustments, assuming any, all the while or industrial facility might be expected to allow recovery and distribution/recycling of the water presently sent to waste? What might different treatment be important to reuse this water? What is the general cost of the necessary changes versus the cost of the raw water over the life of the adjustments?
Cooling Water Recirculation
Recycling water inside a recirculating cooling system can increase significantly less water usage by using similar water to play out a few cooling activities. The water savings are commonly adequately significant to bring about a general cost saving to the industry. Such savings can be considerably more prominent if the waste heat is used as a heat source somewhere else in the production process. Three cooling water protection approaches are ordinarily used to diminish water consumption: evaporative cooling, ozonation, and heat exchange.
Another usual usage of water by industry is using fresh or deionized water to eliminate contaminants from items and equipment. Deionized water can usually be reused after its first use, even though the reclamation treatment cost of reusing this water might be as extraordinary as or more noteworthy than the expense of buying raw water from a manufacturer and treating it. Similar processes needed to create deionized water from municipal water can be used to deliver deionized water from used washwater. It is also conceivable to mix used washwater with raw water, which would bring about overall water saving. The reuse of once-utilized deionized water for an alternate application inside a similar factory should likewise be considered a water conservation choice. For instance, used washwater might be worth washing vehicles or the factory premises.
Strategies to Support Water Conservation
Conserving water for individual use in urban areas (counting use by families and districts) needs an inspection—both the supply and demand for water.
A part of the strategies that can aid water preservation activities. And handle the water shortage issue include:
1. Rainwater harvesting
Rainwater harvesting is essentially a technique to store water and get it. This is for fair usage on the last day and period. The system has unique units that incorporate rainwater transportation, filtration, and storing processed water.
It will be more beneficial to install a rainwater storing unit in our homes to spare more water.
–Rooftop rainwater harvesting (PDF)
-Recharge structures for wells and bore wells
2. Sustainable water usage
Sustainable water supply includes an arrangement of joined activities and not disconnected strategies. It relies upon the person’s ability to save water, administrative regulations, and changes in the building industry, industrial forms production, land occupation, and so forth. The challenge is to make components of direction. How reasonable it is to guarantee the sustainability of the system.
-Minimize domestic water consumption
-Recycling of wastewater
-Improved irrigation methods
3. Encourage natural regeneration of vegetation and supplementing with artificial regeneration
Regeneration is ‘the renewal of a forest crop by natural or artificial means. Using crops by sowing, planting, and may it be through artificial methods. These have a greater impact on conserving water. The natural and artificial regeneration of vegetation is a dynamic procedure. Life recolonizes land when the vegetation has been somewhat or completely devastated. Life restores the lost ground through the instrument of the progression of species.
4. Maintain and improve the quality of water
Water quality in a waterway impacts how communities use the water for drinking, swimming, or business purposes. Particularly, the water might be utilized by the group to produce edible fish, shellfish and crustaceans, protect aquatic ecosystems wildlife habitats, supply drinking water, and the like.
5. Raising awareness of water conservation
We all need to go hand in hand because water is a global priority. And it is imperative to save as much water we can get in any way possible. If it is not for us, then for the generations to come, and if not for the generation, for the world we live in, the Earth. Building awareness seems simple yet so hard to deliver to the human race. For sure, it is the easiest to start it in our home, with ourselves. Rather than sitting tight for another person to begin conserving, let us, as an individual, initiate in conserving.
Most importantly, we have to educate everyone about how essential water is. That is the very least way we can save water. The more we educate people, the more water we save. Every leakage ought to be fixed in the drainage system wherever available.
Wasting water has become a powerful environmental issue – both at consumer and industrial levels. It has turned out to be essential for people and organizations alike to discover approaches to decrease water wastage and conserve it.
There are various approaches to saving water. Conserving is one, and reusing it is another. Given that we live in a zone lying down to dry season, it shows well to save each. This means we can, and using water twice is one great approach to extend this valuable resource further.
Extend your Water Conservation Measures
–Recycle your water wherever, whenever you can. Collect the cold water you run before it’s hot enough to shower and use it to water plants or flush the toilet. After, rinse water from dishes and food preparation can be collected and used to soak other dishes.
–Insulate your water pipes. It’s convenient and low-cost to insulate your water pipes with pre-slit foam pipe insulation. You’ll get hot water faster, plus avoid wasting water while it heats up.
–Eat less water-intensive foods. Our diets regime explains about half of all the water we consume. All food has a water footprint, but some are much larger than others. Eating less beef, one of the most water-intensive foods, is a smart place to start. Shifting away from animal products to a plant-based diet can shrink your water footprint.
–Buy less. Consumer products are an often-overlooked source of water use, accounting for up to a third of most people’s water footprint and buying less of everything. It can dramatically decrease your water footprint from clothing to electronics to household goods.
Desalination can make saltwater drinkable — but it won’t solve the U.S. water crisis
The water in the ocean is a tempting resource. Removing salt comes with environmental and economic costs, though.
Anybody with a 5-year-old’s knowledge of geography might come up against this conundrum: There’s a water shortage in the Western United States. Right next door, there’s the Pacific Ocean. Why can’t we take some of that big, blue body of water and move it into the increasingly parched territory that borders it?
The short answer, of course, is that there’s salt in the ocean, which isn’t good for people, plants and many other living creatures. But as shortages mount, there’s increasing interest in the complicated process of desalination, or pulling out salt on a massive scale so that water can be put to use by the thirsty populations who live nearby.
Wells are drying up in California. The Colorado River is thinning to a dribble. The levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell — the two biggest reservoirs in the United States — are at record lows.
There is precedent for large-scale desalination: Persian Gulf countries such as Qatar have precious little drinking water, and they have invested in the costly technology needed to filter the salt out of saltwater and pass the cleaned-up liquid to their entire society.
“Desalination can be a sustainable way to replenish our water cycle,” wrote the authors of a European Commission-backed study last year that argued for wider use of desalination around the world, in partnership with efforts to minimize its environmental impact.
But the process is energy-intensive, costly and complicated to manage in an Earth-friendly way. Here’s what you need to know.
So what is desalinated water, anyway?
Desalination is the process of getting salt out of saltwater so that it’s drinkable and usable on land. There are two main techniques: You can boil the water, then catch the steam, leaving behind the salt. Or you can blast the water through filters that catch the salt but let the liquid through. The latter is the more modern process, but both methods use a lot of energy.
And is desalinated water safe to drink?
Generally, yes. Desalinated water, provided that it’s clean, is perfectly fine to drink, and a lot of it is already being consumed both in the United States and abroad. San Diego inaugurated a vast new desalination plant about six years ago and is on the verge of approving another. Other plants dot the West Coast. Desalination has been in use in energy-rich, freshwater-poor parts of the world for decades — about half of global production is concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa. A United Nations-sponsored study from 2018 estimated that the world produces about 25 billion gallons of desalinated water every day — enough to fill the taps of 25 New York Cities.
But cleaning up the water isn’t challenge-free. Salt isn’t the only thing that hangs out in seawater: There’s also often a lot of boron, which isn’t good for crops and in large concentrations might be unhealthy for humans. And it isn’t always easy to clean saltwater. Other contaminants can also get in.
“There is an urgent need to make desalination technologies more affordable and extend them to low-income and lower-middle-income countries,” Vladimir Smakhtin, director of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, wrote after he co-wrote the U.N. study on desalination. “At the same time, though, we have to address potentially severe downsides of desalination — the harm of brine and chemical pollution to the marine environment and human health.”
Why do people get excited about desalination?
At its best, desalination is an attractive technology: It takes a relatively abundant but unusable resource, seawater, and turns it into something useful for freshwater-starved regions. And as time passes, it’s becoming more efficient, less costly and more possible to fuel with renewable energy, easing the environmental impact. Eventually, backers hope, extracting the minerals from the high-salt leftovers will become economically viable, even though it’s usually not right now.
At best, said the authors of the European Commission study, desalination can be “a far-reaching, climate change mitigating, water security solution.”
Is desalination bad for the environment?
Opponents of desalination have long said that the technique isn’t a panacea because it hurts the environment even as it cleans up water for human consumption. There are a few big challenges. Pulling saltwater into desalination plants can hurt fish and other marine life if it isn’t done carefully. Then there’s the energy needed to clean up the water, and the brackish, salty waste that is left after the clean water is filtered out.
Proponents of desalination “think it’s table salt. They think the ocean can sustain the damage, but over 50 years, the ocean cannot sustain the damage, and neither can the atmosphere,” said Susan Jordan, the executive director of the California Coastal Protection Network and a longtime critic of big desalination projects in her state.
There’s no question that desalination is energy-intensive. And if that energy comes from dirty sources, desalination can lead to a paradoxical outcome: It can unleash greenhouse gases, worsening global warming, increasing droughts and therefore the need for more desalination.
The most modern desalination plants use significantly less energy than their predecessors. And proponents are looking for ways to use renewable energy to power the process.
A separate challenge is brine, the hyper-concentrated, salty fluid that is flushed away from the freshwater. If it is simply pumped straight back into the sea, the dense substance sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor and suffocates marine life. There are techniques to spread it over greater territory in the sea, diluting its impact.
“We call it the blanket of death because it settles on the floor, and it kills everything,” Jordan said.
Can desalination solve the water crisis?
Alone, no. But it might help as part of a broader range of efforts to cut water use and increase water supplies. Its technologies are growing more energy-efficient, and there are new ways to reduce the environmental harm of the salty wastewater. And it could be used in especially parched parts of the world where water is desperately needed and where there are few alternatives.
“The benefits of desalination go beyond the single-use value of the water produced,” the authors of the European Commission study argued last year, advocating for wider use of desalination in more-vulnerable and poorer regions of the globe. The technology can provide “plentiful water for human use, with all the benefits that entails, while helping preserve and restore ecosystems.”
But in the United States, even proponents of the technology say desalination is likely to supply only a sliver of the American West’s water needs in the coming years, leaving some of the biggest water users — notably the agriculture industry — to look for water elsewhere.
Los Angeles recently unveiled a $3.4 billion proposal to recycle and reuse its wastewater, for example, instead of treating the waste and pumping it into the ocean, as is currently done. Advocates say the change would significantly ease the pressure on the city’s water sources farther north in California and the Colorado River — all without the need to lean more heavily on desalination.
“Conservation, recycling, all of those things are important first,” Jordan said. “And if you can’t solve your water supply problem, then that’s when we say, ‘Do desal, but do it right.’”
Israel’s desalination project is so successful that they will start refilling the Sea of Galilee in 2023. They get a mjority of their water from desalination. Other middle eastern countries will soon be following their lead. Over 3/4 of the world is covered in water, over 98% of which is salt water, so it only makes sense to convert some of this to drinkable water. This process could turn all of the arid countries in Africa into flourishing paradises. I know it will cost a lot of money to do this, but just think of the trillions of dollars we wasted in fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lets face it the only people who benefited from these wars were the stockholders in the armament compaies and the independent contractors that supply troops and protection details. The money spent over the last twenty years on these two wars could have gone a long way towards accomplishing this goal. Not to mention that those countries can sell the salt.
You may ask how this helps the U.S.? Well many states in the U.S. are water poor, that goes for most of the western states. I live in one that is suffering a major water crisis and that is Nevada.
“Feds demand states cut water use”
The federal government has directed the states that share the Colorado River to reduce the use of the river by 2-4 million acre-feet by next year to help preserve sinking levels in Lake Powell and Mead. This mandate is in addition to 2021 federal shortage reductions. This is the largest reduction of water use ever ordered on the Colorado River and represents nearly one third of the water use of the entire river system. Southern Nevada shares the Colorado River with six other states and Mexico. Every state and every sector will have to reduce its water use. Lake Mead has dropped over 170 feet since 2000, and more than 24 feet so far in 2022, exposing the lake’s first water intake, which is no longer operational.
The Southern Nevada Authority has built a low lake level pumping station and a third drinking water intake to ensure access to our water supply in Lake Mead should lake levels continue to fall. The intake also will address water quality challenges caused when warmer surface water draws closer to intake openings.
Water conservation efforts
Over the past two decades, the Authority established one of the nation’s most comprehensive and aggressive water conservation programs in Southern Nevada. These efforts have been effective. The community used 24 billion gallons less water in 2020 than in 2002, despite a population increase of more than 780,000 residents during that time. This represents a 47-percent decline in the community’s per capita water use since 2002.
However, continued declines in Lake Mead’s water level are expected as Southern Nevada experiences a permanent transition to a more arid future, the result of ongoing climate change. For this reason, additional efforts are needed to ensure a reliable long-term water supply for our community.
This is just the dire circumstances that one state is experiencing. You will find similar stories in many other western states. The U.S. is fortunate to be bordered by three large bodies of salt water, so access to this resource is not an issue. What is standing in the way is liberal state governments. California has repeatedy refused to pass legislation for building desalination plants.
THE U.S. IS FACING A WATER CRISIS: COULD DESALINATION BE A SOLUTION?
The United States—like the rest of the world—has a water problem.
Water in the Colorado River is running low, Lake Mead recently reached record low levels, groundwater in Arizona and California is in jeopardy and the federal government is expected to declare a water shortage sometime this summer. An increased demand for water coupled with diminishing supplies leaves big questions: Where will our water come from? How will we ensure we have enough?
In the face of pressing water scarcity, some places in the U.S. in recent decades have looked to a specific type of technology to supply their drinking water: desalination.
Desalination—the process by which salty water is transformed into fresh water—can be a solution, especially in places where steady supplies of fresh water are scarce. This can be done by heating up salt water and collecting the pure water vapor, or by pumping salt water through a special membrane in a process called reverse osmosis.
Desalination has many uses. In addition to being a source of clean drinking water, the technology is also employed by industries that produce oil and gas and in power stations.
While more reliable than other water sources, desalination does have its drawbacks. The facilities needed to complete the process on a large scale can be expensive to build and operate and use a lot of energy. Plus, these plants can generate waste that can be difficult to dispose of and harmful to the environment.
There are nearly 17,000 operational desalination facilities worldwide, many of the largest of which are located overseas. Countries where water is scarce like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel employ desalination technology on large scales to generate reliable fresh water.
In the U.S., over 400 municipal desalination plants have been opened since 1971 and an estimated 200 or more are currently in operation, though the precise number is not known for certain. Most are in California, Florida and Texas.
Sea water is abundant on Earth—the oceans, unlike other water sources, are always full. To be useful as a water source, it first must be transformed into fresh water.
Typically, of the water extracted from the ocean, only about half is converted to fresh water in the desalination process. This means that for every two gallons of sea water extracted, only one gallon of fresh water is created. Left over is a byproduct called brine, a concentrated salty mixture that needs to be disposed of.
The biggest seawater desalter in the western hemisphere is the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant in San Diego County, California. Completed in 2015, the plant can produce up to 60 million gallons of desalted water in one day. In a region plagued with heat and drought, it’s the only water supply in the county that is not dependent on snow or rainfall.
In 2016, California passed an amendment in support of using ocean water to supplement its traditional water supplies like river and groundwater. Called the “Desalination Amendment,” the move provided a consistent method for permitting desalination plants statewide, prioritized protecting marine life, and required tighter regulations for how water is taken from the ocean and the brine is put back in.
Not everyone is convinced that desalinating ocean water is a smart investment. Critics of California’s efforts say that expanding the state’s use of the technology will only make it more challenging and expensive to reach the state’s climate goals. In a 2016 issue brief from the National Resources Defense Council, the authors recommended that the state “proceed with caution.”
“Given the significant energy, climate, and financial costs of desalination, California should prioritize water conservation, water use efficiency, stormwater capture, wastewater recycling, and renewably-powered groundwater desalination,” they wrote. Only after these cheaper, lower impact alternatives have been pursued, the authors said, should seawater desalination be considered.
One of the major downsides of desalination is its price tag. Though the cost of running a desalination facility has dropped over time, the cost is still high, especially when compared to other water sources. The Carlsbad plant cost nearly $1 billion to build, and the water it generates is more expensive than water imported from other sources, costing between $2,125 to $2,368 per acre foot in 2017 (an acre foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre one foot deep).
Removing salt from sea water also requires a lot of energy—more than any other source of water—which contributes to its cost. According to the authors of the 2016 National Resources Defense Council issue brief, seawater desalination in California requires about twice the amount of energy required by water imported from the Colorado River, and about 50% more energy than desalinated brackish (less salty) water and water imported from the California State Water Project require.
An additional cost of seawater desalination is environmental. After the fresh water is removed from the sea water, concentrated brine is left over and deposited back into the ocean. The extra salty mixture doesn’t mix well with the ocean water, so it can sink to the sea floor, lower oxygen levels and harm sea organisms if not managed properly. Not only is the brine salty, but it can also contain some of the chemicals used in the water treatment process.
The potential for negative environmental impacts has led some to oppose construction of the plants in the U.S. After plans for the Carlsbad plant were approved in 2006, the builders faced at least 14 legal challenges from environmental groups opposed to the project.
Despite the drawbacks, enthusiasm for seawater desalination hasn’t completely waned. As of 2019, California has 12 seawater desalination plants, including the one in Carlsbad, and has proposals to build six more.
One of the newly proposed projects is in Huntington Beach. Once complete, the plant will produce 50 million gallons of fresh water a day, becoming one of the largest facilities in the country.
Brackish Water Desalination
Desalination doesn’t just refer to de-salting sea water—it can also be used to transform water that’s not as salty as the ocean, but still too salty to drink, into fresh water.
Known as “brackish water,” this water contains less salt in parts per million (or ppm) compared to sea water, which contains about 35,000 ppm of salt. Fresh water has less than 1,000 ppm of salt, and brackish water falls somewhere in between the two.
Brackish water appears in sources on the surface, like lakes and rivers, as well as in underground aquifers. According to research studies done in 2010, over 95% of the desalination facilities in the U.S. are located inland, away from the ocean, and most are designed to treat brackish groundwater.
In Texas, 27 of the state’s 31 aquifers contain brackish groundwater. The state is also home to the largest inland desalination plant in the country. Located in El Paso, far from any ocean, the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant transforms previously unusable groundwater into fresh water, and it’s capable of making up to 27.5 million gallons of fresh water a day. To meet the growing demand for water, the plant plans to expand so it can produce up to 42 million gallons in a day.
Brackish water desalination poses a different set of challenges compared to seawater desalination. While there are fewer dissolved particles to remove from brackish water, it can be harder to dispose of the leftover waste. And though less energy is required to pump the brackish water through filters than sea water, more energy is sometimes required to pump it from its source.
Is desalination a viable water solution in the U.S.?
In the face of water scarcity and the aridification of the U.S. the question remains: Is desalination a viable water solution?
“Desalination is not a panacea,” Michael Kiparsky, director of the Wheeler Water Institute at the University of California Berkeley, told WIRED in an interview. The process is energy-intensive, he told the publication, speaking specifically about seawater desalination, and it will never be cheap.
But researchers are tackling these challenges and more now, making reverse osmosis membranes more efficient, turning the salty brine byproduct into useful chemicals and figuring out how to reliably power desalination facilities with renewable energy.
States like California, Texas and Florida continue to invest in desalination technology. In Texas, regional groups in charge of water planning recommend desalination to meet at least part of their future water needs. If implemented, desalination in Texas could produce an extra 230,000 acre feet of water per year by 2070. And in coastal states, desalination could be used to help counteract the effects of seawater intrusion into fresh water.
In California, those in favor of desalination say the facilities act as a kind of insurance policy.
“The whole purpose of the desal plant is to diversify the water supply portfolio to reduce the need to import water from Northern California into Southern California,” said Scott Maloni, vice president of project development at Poseidon Water, speaking to Yes! Magazine about the proposed Huntington Beach project. Poseidon Water has built several large desalination facilities around the world, including the one in Carlsbad.
While there is a consensus that diverse water supplies are needed, environmental advocates argue that desalination is not as good an option as increasing water conservation, efficiency and recycling through efforts like capturing stormwater.
“Desal should be the option of last resort,” Newsha Ajami told Yes! Magazine in an interview. Ajami works with Stanford University’s Water in the West program, where she is the director of urban water policy. “There are so many other inefficiencies in the system that can be fixed to potentially harness more water.”
Even so, the tides appear to be moving such that desalination will be part of the country’s water future. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Water Security Grand Challenge, an initiative designed to foster and fund innovation and new technologies to meet the global demand for water. Its first stated goal: To develop desalination technologies that generate clean water at more competitive prices by 2030.
Agency unanimously rejects California desalination project
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — A California coastal panel on Thursday rejected a long-standing proposal to build a $1.4 billion seawater desalination plant to turn Pacific Ocean water into drinking water as the state grapples with persistent drought that is expected to worsen in coming years with climate change.
The state’s Coastal Commission voted unanimously to deny a permit for Poseidon Water to build a plant to produce 50 million gallons of water a day in Huntington Beach, southeast of Los Angeles.
Poseidon said it was disappointed in the decision.
“California continues to face a punishing drought, with no end in sight,” a company statement said. “Every day, we see new calls for conservation as reservoir levels drop to dangerous lows. We firmly believe that this desalination project would have created a sustainable, drought-tolerant source of water.”
The vote came after a heated meeting before the commission attended by dozens of supporters and critics of the plan. It was considered a crucial decision on the future of the plant after years of other hearings and delays. Poseidon’s long-running proposal was supported by Gov. Gavin Newsom but faced ardent opposition from environmentalists who said drawing in large amounts of ocean water and releasing salty discharge back into the ocean would kill billions of tiny marine organisms that make up the base of the food chain along a large swath of the coast.
“The ocean is under attack” from climate change already, Commissioner Dayna Bochco said. “I cannot say in good conscience that this amount of damage is OK.”
Other critics said the water would be too expensive and wasn’t urgently needed in the area where it would be built, which is less dependent on state and federal water due to an ample aquifer and water recycling program.
Commissioners cited those issues in following a staff recommendation and rejecting the proposal. They also cited the energy cost of running the plant and the fact that it would sit in an earthquake fault zone.
Before voting, the 12-member commission heard hours of comments from scores of people packed into a hotel meeting room in the Orange County city of Costa Mesa in addition to those tuning in online.
At the meeting, supporters wore orange and yellow construction vests and toted signs saying “support desal!”
Opponents carried signs reading “No Poseidon” and “Do not $ell our coast” and included a woman who wore a plankton costume and held a sign reading “I am a plankton — please do not kill me!”
California has spent most of the last 15 years in drought conditions. Its normal wet season that runs from late fall to the end of winter was especially dry this year and as a result 95% of the state is classified as in severe drought.
Newsom last summer urged residents to cut consumption by 15%, but since then water usage has dropped by only about 3%. Some areas have begun instituting generally mild restrictions such as limiting how many days lawns can be watered. More stringent restrictions are likely later in the year.
Much of California’s water comes from melting snow and with a far below normal snowpack, state officials have told water agencies they will receive only 5% of what they’ve requested from state water supplies beyond what’s needed for critical activities like drinking and bathing.
Desalination takes ocean water and removes salt and other elements to make it drinkable. Those elements are discharged back into the sea, while the water can be channeled directly to consumers or used to replenish a groundwater basin. The country’s largest seawater desalination plant is already operating in nearby San Diego County, and there are also coastal plants in Florida.
The idea of desalination has been debated for decades in Huntington Beach, a coastal community southeast of Los Angeles known as “Surf City USA” that relies on its sands and waves for tourism. Discussion of the project has also recently focused on the impact of climate change on regional water supplies and on sea level rise in the low-lying coastal area where the plant would be built.
More than two decades ago, Poseidon proposed building two desalination plants — the one in San Diego County, and one in Huntington Beach. The San Diego County plant was approved and built, and desalinated water now accounts for 10% of San Diego County Water District ’s water supplies.
But the Huntington Beach project has faced numerous delays. In 2013, the Coastal Commission voiced concerns that the proposed use of intake structures to quickly draw in large volumes of water from the ocean would damage marine life. Poseidon, which is owned by Brookfield Infrastructure Partners, conducted additional studies and resubmitted the plan with a proposal to mitigate marine damage through restoration of nearby wetlands.
Last month, staff members for the panel issued a 200-page report opposing the project, arguing it fails to adhere to marine life protection policies and policies aimed at minimizing hazards from tsunamis and rising sea levels.
Some on Thursday also debated the extent of the local demand for the desalinated water. Orange County has an ample groundwater basin and recycles wastewater, making the region less dependent on imported water than San Diego. The Orange County Water District, which has said it intends to buy Poseidon’s water, manages the basin that helps meet about 75% of the water demand in the northern and central parts of the county.
Poseidon contends the region would still benefit by locking in a drought-proof source of water and so would inland communities and states that could gain increased access to imported water supplies once the county can tap into desalinated water. Steve Sheldon, the Orange County Water District’s president, said desalinated water is more expensive now, but he expects the cost of imported water to also rise over time.
Water restrictions show folly of California’s rejection of large-scale desalination projects
As the state continues to grapple with drought conditions, water restrictions are being placed on six million residents in Southern California. The latest restrictions are another reminder that the California Coastal Commission’s recent rejection of the Orange County desalination plant, after 24 years of delay, reinforces the state’s position as a laggard in adopting technology that could provide water security. While arid coastal countries worldwide are implementing desalination, the most obvious solution to water scarcity, the Coastal Commission unanimously voted against the Huntington Beach project.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, noting years of drought in the state, harshly criticized the rejection, saying, “We need more tools in the damn tool kit.”
The commission claimed it was worried about higher water bills for the area’s lower-income residents, impact on marine life near the facility, and reduced public access to the shoreline, especially during the construction period. It remains to be seen whether those objections will also defeat the proposed Doheny Beach desalination facility in southern Orange County despite its seemingly initially favorable reception from regulators. But even if the Doheny plant is approved, it would provide only 10% of the water that the Huntington Beach facility would’ve provided.
The Coastal Commission’s objections to larger facilities are out of touch with numerous other countries pursuing desalination at scale. Australia has five major desalination plants with more under development. Spain has hundreds of smaller desalination plants providing water for industry, agriculture, and drinking. On El Hierro, in the Canary Islands, desalination plants are powered by wind energy and hydroelectric power, demonstrating how Spain is addressing climate change and water security.
Last year, Singapore opened its fifth desalination facility and now meets about 30% of its water requirements from purified seawater. Its government is also experimenting with new technologies that reduce desalination’s energy consumption sharply.
Israel’s success with desalination is well known. It has five operating plants and two more under construction. Once all seven plants are online, they will collectively provide enough fresh water to meet 85%-to-90% of Israel’s municipal and industrial water requirements.
The world’s largest desalination plants are in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Ras Al Khair plant in Saudi Arabia can produce 228 million gallons of water daily—more than four times the volume processed by the facility in Carlsbad, which remains California’s only major desalination plant.
These numerous examples suggest an overall pattern: countries with high per capita income, insufficient rainfall, and a seacoast are increasingly investing in desalination. But California, despite years of drought and its long-term water needs, is not following this global trend. And even within the United States, California is becoming an outlier.
This year, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey proposed an ambitious plan to increase his state’s water supply. Under Ducey’s plan, Arizona would fund two desalination plants on the Sea of Cortez in northern Mexico. The desalinated water would be used in Mexico in exchange for Arizona being allowed to increase its use of Colorado River water, which is now limited by a binational agreement that reserves a portion of the water for Mexico.
If California officials cannot get comfortable with building more desalination plants in the state, they might consider participating in the Arizona project. Or, perhaps they could work a similar deal with the Mexican state of Baja California, which had to cancel its own desalination project in 2020 due to the declining value of the Mexican peso. If California agreed to buy a portion of the water purified by the proposed facility in Rosarito, about 15 miles south of the border, perhaps the economics would work for everyone.
While it is true that desalinated water is much more expensive than groundwater or snowmelt piped in from the Sierra, this cost needs to be put in perspective. The estimated cost of water from the Huntington Beach desalination plant would have been $2,900 per acre-foot, which works out to just under one cent per gallon. This is a tiny fraction of the cost of bottled water, recently estimated to average $9.60 per gallon.
With many of the state’s politicians warning of worsening climate change and severe droughts, California shouldn’t be rejecting a sustainable opportunity to buy water for a penny per gallon.
Desalination Is Booming as Cities Run out of Water
In California alone there are 11 desalination plants, with 10 more proposed. But there are big downsides to making seawater drinkable.
Some 30 miles north of San Diego, along the Pacific Coast, sits the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the largest effort to turn salt water into fresh water in North America.
Each day 100 million gallons of seawater are pushed through semi-permeable membranes to create 50 million gallons of water that is piped to municipal users. Carlsbad, which became fully operational in 2015, creates about 10 percent of the fresh water the 3.1 million people in the region use, at about twice the cost of the other main source of water.
Expensive, yes, but vital for the fact that it is local and reliable. “Drought is a recurring condition here in California,” said Jeremy Crutchfield, water resources manager at the San Diego County Water Authority. “We just came out of a five-year drought in 2017. The plant has reduced our reliance on imported supplies, which is challenging at times here in California. So it’s a component for reliability.”
A second plant, similar to Carlsbad, is being built in Huntington, California with the same 50-million-gallon-a-day capability. Currently there are 11 desalination plants in California, and 10 more are proposed.
It’s been a long time coming for desalination—desal for short. For decades, we have been told it would one day turn oceans of salt water into fresh and quench the world’s thirst. But progress has been slow.
That is now changing, as desalination is coming into play in many places around the world. Several factors are converging to bring new plants on line. Population has boomed in many water-stressed places, including parts of China, India, South Africa, and the United States, especially in Arizona and California. In addition, drought—some of it driven by a changing climate—is occurring in many regions that not that long ago thought their supplies were ample.
San Diego is one of those places. With just 12 inches of rain a year in the Mediterranean climate of Southern California and no groundwater, the region gets half of its water from the distant Colorado River. The amount of snow that falls in the Rocky Mountains and keeps that mighty river flowing, however, has greatly diminished over the last two decades, and according to some researchers may be part of a permanent aridification of the West. Climate change is a very real phenomenon for water managers throughout the Southwest and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the cost of desalinated water has been coming down as the technology evolves and the cost of other sources increases. In the last three decades, the cost of desalination has dropped by more than half.
A boom in desal, though, doesn’t mean that everywhere with access to the sea has found a new source of fresh water. Circumstances play a large role. “As populations increase and existing surface water supplies are being tapped out or groundwater is depleted or polluted, then the problems are acute and there are choices to be made” about desal, said Michael Kiparsky of the Wheeler Water Institute at the UC Berkeley School of Law. “There are places around the world where desal makes economic sense, where there is high pressure on the water resources plus a lot of available energy resources,” such as the Middle East.
Desal proponents acknowledge the industry must confront and solve some serious environmental issues if it is to continue to grow. Desalination requires vast amounts of energy, which in some places is currently provided by fossil fuels. Kiparsky warns of a feedback loop where more desal is needed as the planet warms, which leads to more greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, there are serious concerns about the damage to marine life from the plant’s intake systems and extra-salty wastewater.
The first large-scale desal plants were built in the 1960s, and there are now some 20,000 facilities globally that turn sea water into fresh. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with very little fresh water and cheap energy costs for the fossil fuels it uses in its desal plants, produces the most fresh water of any nation, a fifth of the world’s total.
Australia and Israel are also major players. When the Millennium Drought gripped southeastern Australia from the late 1990s until 2009 water systems in the region dropped to small fractions of their storage capacity. Facing a crisis, Perth, Melbourne, and other cities embarked on a large desalination plant spree. The plant in Melbourne, which provided its first water in 2017, cost $3.5 billion to build and provides a third of the city’s supply. It’s critical because the region has had below-average rainfall for 18 of the last 20 years.
Israel, too, is all in on desalination. It has five large plants in operation, and plans for five more. Chronic water shortages there are now a thing of the past, as more than half of the country’s domestic needs are met with water from the Mediterranean.
Globally, more than 300 million people now get their water from desalination plants, according to the International Desalination Association.
But despite the need, desal plants will not be built on every coastline. Foremost among the barriers is the cost of constructing a plant and the cost of processing the water. The San Diego County Water Authority pays about $1,200 for an acre-foot of water sourced from the Colorado River and the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta and pumped hundreds of miles to Southern California. The same amount from the Carlsbad plant—enough to supply a family of five for a year—costs about $2,200. As Lake Mead—the reservoir of Colorado River water on the Nevada-Arizona border that supplies San Diego—drops precipitously, it may someday, perhaps in the next several years, no longer be able to supply San Diego. Certainty is paramount.
Desal, however, is plagued by some serious environmental problems. There are two types of desalination—thermal, which heats up water and then captures the condensation, and reverse osmosis, which forces sea water through the pores of a membrane that are many times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. This traps salt molecules, but allows the smaller water molecules to go through. Both require a great deal of energy, and greenhouse gas emissions created by the power needed—especially in the Middle East, where fossil fuels generate electricity—are a significant contributor to global warming.
There are ecological impacts as well. It takes two gallons of sea water to make a gallon of fresh water, which means the gallon left behind is briny. It is disposed of by returning it to the ocean and—if not done properly by diffusing it over large areas—can deplete the ocean of oxygen and have negative impacts on sea life.
A study by the UN Institute for Water, Environment and Health published earlier this year contends that the problem of brine waste has been underestimated by 50 percent and that, when mixed with the chemicals meant to keep systems from fouling, the brine is toxic and causes serious pollution.
Another problem comes from the sucking in of sea water for processing. When a fish or other large organism gets stuck on the intake screen, it dies or is injured; in addition, fish larvae, eggs and plankton get sucked into the system and are killed.
“At our intake we [draw in] tiny little organisms, that amount to about a pound and a half of adult fish per day,” said Jessica Jones, a spokesperson for Poseidon Water, which owns the Carlsbad plant. “To mitigate that we are restoring 66 acres of wetlands in San Diego Bay. And we just got a new intake permitted which will lessen the impacts.”
According to Heather Cooley, research director at the Pacific Institute, “There are a lot of unknowns around the impact on sea life. There hasn’t been a lot of monitoring at the facilities.” A strategy increasingly being used to obviate, or reduce, that problem is to bury the sea water intakes beneath the sea floor and use the sandy ocean bottom as a natural filter.
In 2016, California passed the Desalination Amendment, which tightened regulations for intake and brine disposal. Proponents of desalination contend the changes have been onerous and are slowing the march toward a desal future.
Because of the cost of seawater processing and the impacts on the ocean, much of the recent desalination growth has involved the use of brackish water. The solids in brackish water are one-tenth the amount in ocean water, and that makes the process much cheaper.
Arizona, perpetually short on water and facing a Colorado River supply shortage, is looking at both a seawater desal plant in partnership with Mexico—which has the ocean access that the state lacks—and at plants that can treat the 600 million acre-feet of brackish water deposits the state estimates it has.
Texas, meanwhile, now has 49 municipal desal plants that process brackish water, both surface and subsurface. San Antonio currently is building what will be the largest brackish water desal plant in the country. In its first phase, it produces 12 million gallons a day, enough for 40,000 families, but by 2026, the plant—known as H2Oaks—will produce 30 million gallons a day. Brackish water desal costs $1,000 to $2,000 per acre-foot.
The Pacific Institute’s Cooley argues that before building desal plants, municipalities should fully implement conservation programs, promote potable re-use—the re-use of wastewater, also known as toilet-to-tap recycling—or treat storm water runoff. “It makes sense to do the cheaper options first and leave the more expensive options down the road to be developed when you need them,” she said.
Luckily for us other states have already started working on plans and in some cases have already implemented them. Florida is one of those forward thinking states.
What states in the US have desalination plants?
In the U.S., over 400 municipal desalination plants have been opened since 1971 and an estimated 200 or more are currently in operation, though the precise number is not known for certain.
Where Do We Get Our Water?
Until 1980, surface water was the largest source of fresh water in Florida. After 1980, ground water became the largest source of fresh water in Florida. In the future, ground water withdrawals are expected to level off as this source reaches its sustainable limit. New demand will increasingly be met by alternative water supplies.
What Do We Know About Future Demand?
The demand projections in the most recent water management district Regional Water Supply Plans indicate water use will continue to increase over the next 20 years. Between 2010 and 2030, public supply is expected to increase by about 29 percent and account for the majority of the increase in statewide demand. Agricultural irrigation will increase by about 7.4 percent and will represent the second largest water use. The other water use sectors show small increasing trends as well. Total water withdrawals for all uses are expected to increase by almost 21 percent to about 1.3 billion gallons per day.
Analyses conducted by the water management districts indicate that ground water resources are insufficient to fully meet future demands in large areas of the state. To do so would result in unacceptable environmental impacts including saltwater intrusion, reduction in spring flows, lowered lake levels and loss of wetlands. Consequently, steps are being taken now, and actions planned, to reduce the state’s reliance on fresh ground water through the use of Alternative Water Supply.
Alternative water supplies include seawater, brackish ground water, surface water, stormwater, reclaimed water, aquifer storage and recovery projects, and any other nontraditional supply source identified in a regional water supply plan. These sources are frequently more expensive to develop and operate than traditional sources.
- Seawater and Brackish Ground Water
Brackish ground water and seawater can be converted to fresh water through a process called desalination. Water desalination can be accomplished by distillation, ion exchange, freezing, and use of membrane technology. In Florida, reverse osmosis, a membrane technology, is the most common method of desalination. Reverse osmosis uses pressure to force salty water through a semi-permeable membrane that keeps the salt on one side and allows pure water to pass through to the other side. This process creates a salty brine product that must be safely managed to protect the environment.
- Reclaimed Water
Reclaimed water is domestic wastewater that has received advanced treatment and is reused for beneficial, nonpotable purposes. In some states, reclaimed water is called “recycled water.” The use of reclaimed water is called “reuse.” Reclaimed water is used for agricultural irrigation, ground water recharge, industrial processes, and irrigation of lawns, landscapes, cemeteries and golf courses. The use of reclaimed water is widely beneficial to Floridians because it preserves drinking water quality sources for potable uses; helps the environment by reducing treated wastewater discharges into our rivers and streams; and recharges our aquifers.
- Aquifer Storage and Recovery
Aquifer storage and recovery involves the injection of potable water into the aquifer. The water is able to be stored in the aquifer and then be recovered as needed.
Development of alternative water sources has benefits beyond supplementing traditional water supplies. Source diversification creates a water supply system that is more reliable than a system that relies on a single source of supply. Diversification of water sources is an important tool in building drought resilience, increasing water supply reliability, and protecting Florida’s natural environment.
Are Alternative Water Supplies Already Being Used In Florida?
Yes. During the past 20 years, Florida has been recognized as a national leader (along with California) in water reuse. In 2013, Florida used about 719 million gallons per day of reclaimed water for beneficial purposes. Florida leads the nation in the use of desalination technology. Florida’s seawater desalination plant in the Tampa Bay area is the largest such facility in North America. In addition to the use of seawater, more than 140 facilities use desalination technology to treat brackish water. Florida also is increasing use of surface and stormwater as fresh water sources.
Still, these ongoing efforts alone will not meet the projected 2030 demand. More alternative supplies, as well as increased water conservation, are still needed.
Amid Scramble for Water, a Push for Desalination
SAN ANTONIO — Drilling rigs in the midst of cow pastures are hardly a novelty for Texans. But on a warm May day at a site about 30 miles south of San Antonio, a rig was not trying to reach oil or fresh water, but rather something unconventional: a salty aquifer. After a plant is built and begins operating in 2016, the site will become one of the state’s largest water desalination facilities.
“This is another step in what we’re trying to do to diversify our water supply,” said Anne Hayden, a spokeswoman for the San Antonio Water System.
More projects like San Antonio’s could lace the Texas countryside as planners look to convert water from massive saline aquifers beneath the state’s surface, as well as seawater from the Gulf of Mexico, into potable water. The continuing drought has made desalination a buzzword in water discussions around the state, amid the scramble for new water supplies to accommodate the rapid population and industry growth anticipated in Texas. But the technology remains energy-intensive and is already causing an increase in water rates in some communities.
“If you look around Texas and you look at the climate situation and the fact that the reservoirs are being drawn down, there just isn’t much of an alternative,” said Tom Pankratz, the Houston-based editor of the Water Desalination Report, who also does consulting for the industry.
Across the state, 44 desalination plants — none using seawater — have been built for public water supplies, according to the Texas Water Development Board. Ten more, including San Antonio’s, have been approved for construction by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Most projects are small, capable of providing less than three million gallons per day, often for rural areas. The state’s largest is in El Paso, where the $91 million Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant, completed in 2007, can supply up to 27.5 million gallons of water a day, though it rarely operates at full capacity because of the high energy costs associated with forcing water through a membrane resembling parchment to take out the salts. (Production of desalinated water costs 2.1 times more than fresh groundwater and 70 percent more than surface water, according to El Paso Water Utilities, which said that the plant’s rate impact amounted to about 4 cents for every 750 gallons of the utility’s overall supply.) Last year, the plant supplied 4 percent of El Paso’s water.
Interest in desalination surged more than a decade ago, when the technology became more efficient and cost-competitive, according to Jorge Arroyo, a desalination specialist with the Texas Water Development Board. But the severe drought of the past two years has triggered extra calls to his office. Texas holds 2.7 billion acre-feet of brackish groundwater — which translates to roughly 150 times the amount of water the state uses annually — in addition to some brackish surface water. The state water plan finalized this year envisions Texas deriving 3.4 percent of its water supply from desalination in 2060. (It is less than 1 percent now.)
Environmentalists argue that desalination is not a silver bullet because it is energy-intensive and requires disposal of the concentrated salts in a way that avoids contaminating fresh water. Texas should first focus on conservation and the reuse of wastewater, said Amy Hardberger, a water specialist with the Environmental Defense Fund.
“What needs to be avoided is the, ‘Oh, we’ll just get more’ mentality,” she said.
But getting more is what many Texans want. Odessa, which draws water from dangerously low surface reservoirs, is considering a desalination plant that could ultimately become bigger than the one in El Paso. (Odessa’s deadline for proposals is next week.)
Separately, a planned power plant near Odessa is studying prices for the technology. John Ragan, the head of Texas operations for NRG Energy, envisions natural gas power plants along the coast that desalinate water overnight when they are not needed for electricity. Residents near the half-full Highland Lakes in Central Texas say that desalination could reduce the water-supply burden on the lakes. Texas Tech University aims to begin wind-powered desalination research later this year, in the West Texas town of Seminole.
The San Antonio project is estimated to cost $145 million in its initial phase, with a daily production capacity of 10 million gallons, and $225 million assuming it is built out to a daily capacity of 25 million gallons (which is possible by 2026). The cost is significantly higher than El Paso’s project, but San Antonio officials say that the figures reflect additional factors like acquiring land — and so far, the project is under budget. Local water rates, along with $59 million in low-interest loans from the Texas Water Development Board, are financing the project.
Desalination means “you’re going to have to spend some money,” said state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio. But it is worthwhile, he added, because “our whole economic future could be up in the air.” Texans seeking a model, Larson said, should turn to Australia, where a major drought last decade spurred billions of dollars of investments in desalination.
Australia’s focus has been desalinating seawater. That is an option for the Texas coast, but desalinating seawater generally costs more than twice as much as desalinating groundwater because seawater is saltier. Energy can account for 60 to 70 percent of the day-to-day operating costs of a seawater plant, estimated Pankratz, the Water Desalination Report editor.
The largest seawater desalination plant in the country, which is slightly larger than El Paso’s brackish water plant, operates in Florida. Proposals are inching forward for a seawater plant in Texas. The Laguna Madre Water District, based in Port Isabel, completed a pilot seawater desalination project two years ago and is now looking for property on the north end of South Padre Island to locate a larger facility, said Carlos Galvan, the water district’s director of operations. Desalination would reduce the utility’s dependence on the often-diminished Rio Grande.
The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority is also mulling seawater desalination, perhaps in the greater Victoria area. It has asked companies to submit project proposals by mid-September, and it may try to locate the water plant with a power plant, as is done in Saudi Arabia, to boost efficiency and cut costs.
Officials with both Laguna Madre and Guadalupe-Blanco hope to acquire some financing from private companies. But government at all levels, from water agencies on up, will be the key player. In El Paso, the federal government contributed $26 million in grants — more than a quarter of the cost — for the desalination plant.
The Texas Water Development Board has issued $7.1 million in grants for desalination projects since 2000, according to Arroyo, the desalination specialist.
But “we don’t have any more funds for desalination,” he said. The board asked the Legislature for $9.5 million in financing for seawater desalination last session but did not get it.
Gov. Rick Perry has advocated for desalination in the past, but he has spoken little on it recently. Expanding the technology “at a cost that is affordable to consumers will be an important part of any future water plans in the state,” Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an email.
Officials at the Texas Desalination Association, a new advocacy group, acknowledge that requests for money will probably fall on deaf ears. But they say that the state can help by easing regulations — for example, a requirement that every desalination project include a lengthy pilot study — and by doing more extensive mapping of Texas’ brackish water resources.
“If we eliminate some of the red tape and some of the permitting issues,” said Paul Choules, the group’s president, “it reduces a lot of the upfront cost.”
There is a concern about returning briny water back to the ocean. Why do it? There are plenty of areas that you can pump the water to inland, like the Sultan Sea for instance. Or you could just spread it over a large patch of the salt flats. Islands like Bonaire sell salt as an industry. Why waste it? We need to think outside of the box. There are always solutions to every problem. One thing we have no shortage out west is land. Inland Saltwater marshes could be a great reservoir for wildlife. I know one thing if we don’t increase our utilization of saltwater we are going to find ourselves thirsty and hungry. Just one more thought, the brackish water can also be used for fracking. Why use fresh water when we have an unlimited supply of brackish water from the desalination plants. Like I said there are always solutions.
theberkley.com, “A Guide to Water Conservation – Saving Water and the Earth.”; washingtonpost.com, “Desalination can make saltwater drinkable — but it won’t solve the U.S. water crisis: The water in the ocean is a tempting resource. Removing salt comes with environmental and economic costs, though.” By Michael Birnhaum; snwa.com; timesofisrael.com, “Israel to be 1st in world to pipe desalinated water into a natural lake, the Galilee: Underground channel set to start operating in spring; Sea of Galilee expert says tests indicate more pros than cons, but full effect on ecosystems will only emerge with monitoring.” By Sue Surkes; apnews.com, “Agency unanimously rejects California desalination project.” By AMY TAXIN; ocregister.com, “Water restrictions show folly of California’s rejection of large-scale desalination projects.” By Marc Joffe; floridaep.gov, ” Alternative Water Supply.”; texastribune.org. “Amid Scramble for Water, a Push for Desalination.” By Kate Galbraith; apmresearchlab.org, “THE U.S. IS FACING A WATER CRISIS: COULD DESALINATION BE A SOLUTION?” By Katherine Sypher; wired.com. “Desalination Is Booming as Cities Run out of Water: In California alone there are 11 desalination plants, with 10 more proposed. But there are big downsides to making seawater drinkable.”; waterless.com, “DESALINATION: THE GOOD, THE TROUBLESOME, AND THE FUTURE.” By Klaus Reichardt;
Water Facts and Trivia
-The overall number of water has continued for two billion years on our planet.
-Around 39,000 gallons of water are expected to create a vehicle.
-Around a billion people need stable access to clean water.
-It takes around 6 gallons of water to cultivate a sole portion of lettuce.
-More than 2,600 gallons are needed to deliver a single serving of steak.
-A typical shower utilizes around 25 gallons of water.
-Brushing your teeth utilizes around 10 gallons of water.
-The bathtub utilizes roughly 36 gallons of water.
-Shaving utilizes roughly 20 gallons of water.
-Dishwashing utilizes roughly 30 gallons of water.
-An automatic dishwasher utilizes roughly 16 gallons of water for every cycle.
-Washing your hands utilizes roughly 2 gallons of water.
-Flushing the toilet utilizes 5-7 gallons for each flush.
-A typical washing machine cycle utilizes 60 gallons of water.
-Watering outside utilizes around 10 gallons for every moment.
Recently, an article revealed that Israel has 20 percent more water than it needs — quite an accomplishment. Israel is a desert country, just like all the other Middle Eastern countries. And in some ways, when it comes to water, it is geographically worse off than its neighbors.
Egypt, for instance, has the Nile, which has quenched the thirst of Egyptians for centuries. Iranians depend on Lake Urmia, the largest lake in the Middle East, for much of their water.
Israel, on the other hand, has some streams but no major rivers. They have some lakes, such as the Dead Sea, but unlike Lake Urmia in Iran, the Dead Sea is a salt lake. The water is not potable.
Mentioning the salty Dead Sea is a good segue into what we want to discuss. Because it has no water, and what it does have is not potable, Israel has developed some of the most advanced technologies in the world to turn salt water into potable water — water that is safe to consume for humans and other living things.
Desalination is just one of the reasons Israel has 20 percent more water than it needs. Desalination plants are now being considered and constructed throughout the U.S. In California, they are virtually betting their future on desalination.
When discussing this technology, here are some issues we need to be aware of:
-Desalination is the process of removing salt and other minerals from water.
-It has been used as far back as the 1500s.
-The first significant desalination plant was not built in Israel but in Saudi Arabia in 1938
In the 1960s, then-President Kennedy started a small desalination program in the U.S. It was later dismantled in the 1980s.
-Several desalination technologies exist, such as solar distillation, natural evaporation systems, reverse osmosis, thermal, and others. Each method has its pros and cons.
-There are now more than 16,000 desalination plants in operation around the globe. Some are small, called micro desalination plants. Others are huge, with the largest in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
-These 16,000 plants generate an estimated 780 million gallons of water per day — enough water to serve millions of people.
As more desalination plants are constructed in this country and around the world, it’s clear that billions of gallons of water will soon be generated by these systems.
However, there is a downside. For example:
Desalinating plants are very energy demanding.
-At this time, most are operated using conventional energy sources such as electricity derived from petroleum and natural gas.
-These plants are very costly to construct and operate. The charges to run them are also high, which can make water costs prohibitive in some cases.
-Desalination plants are often constructed in remote areas, which means miles of power lines may need to be built to run them.
The effluent brine can be harmful to water ways and the sea environment
-The construction of some plants, especially here in the U.S., is being opposed by some environmentalists precisely because they are being developed in remote and sometimes environmentally sensitive areas of the country.
-While lower-cost renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal are being used to power desalination plants, using these renewable resources increases total construction costs.
Even with these issues, the reality is that with a growing U.S. population and climate change leaving many parts of the country drier than ever before, desalination plants may prove to be lifesavers, just as they are in Israel and other parts of the Middle East. Further, there are signs that some of the construction costs are coming down.
However, in the meantime, we have one more way to reduce water consumption that has also proven its value. Water efficiency — reducing water consumption long term — is already saving billions of gallons of water per year worldwide. That’s where waterless urinals come in. View waterless urinals as pioneers. They have helped lead the way for building owners, managers, and now, consumers, to use water wisely and certainly more efficiently.