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Desalination No Silver Bullet for California's Water Woes

Measures such as conservation and water reuse could better meet the state's future water needs, experts say

By Sara Stroud

Dec 16, 2010

That's partly because desalinated seawater doesn't come cheap. Desalination offers a water source that is free from the climate-sensitive fluctuations that plague other water supplies. But as an energy-intensive water source, its cost is closely tied to changing energy prices, according to the , an Oakland, Calif.-based research group that focuses on water issues.

Estimates peg the cost of producing desalinated water at $1 per cubic meter or more. Urban water users, by comparison, typically pay between 26 cents and 75 cents per cubic meter. An increase in energy costs of 25 percent could raise the costs of desalinated water by up to 15 percent.

If all the proposed plants in California get built, they would produce tens of millions of gallons of water daily but only meet about 6 percent of the state's entire water needs.

"There's not one solution," said Heather Cooley, a senior research associate at the Pacific Institute. "We need to take a look at all the options available" to bolster the state's water supplies, she added, including water conservation and efficiency, recycled water and rainwater harvesting.

The institute estimates that one-third of California's urban water use can be saved with existing technologies, at below the cost of tapping into new water resources.

See also:

Desalination Boom Nears for Arid California, but Obstacles Remain

Investors Warned of Hidden Financial Risks of Water Shortages

Freshwater Flow Into Oceans Steadily Rising

Energy Production Pushing Water Supply to Choke Point

Plans Afoot to Ship Fresh Water from Alaska to India

What about solar thermal

What about solar thermal (CSP) plants in Southern California?    If I'm not mistaken, they can produe electricity and desalinate sea water at the same time.  

Wave powered desalination?

from Google search

Abstract: Abstract It is shown that wave-powered desalination can be achieved by a relatively simple buoy/pump/anchor system coupled to a standard ... 


Lack of fresh water is not the problem

Desalinization technologies are up against the limits of chemistry and physics.  Regardless of clever tricks, it takes energy to do the separation and a lot of it.  The only justufuable aproach is doing it cleverly by solar-still techniques.  RO techniques are simply unaffordable unless, like the Saudis, you literally have energy to burn.

Lack of fresh water is not the problem.  The problem is its distribution and/or the distribution of humans and human activities that depend on water.  California has a become adicted to a lifestyle and industry that can not be supported by its climate.  That is no excuse to squander finite energy resources.  Instead, water from other places along the pacific coast should simply be transported there to meet the demand.  This can be done as a faction of the cost and using inconsequential amounts of energy. 

However, desal conglomerates see a goldmine and it will be difficult to counteract their lobbying.




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