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Unlike Calif., Australia Has No Choice But to Desalinate Their Sea Water

The main difference for Australia is that they 'truly ran out of water'

By Sara Stroud

Dec 17, 2010

In the U.S., a handful of cities already rely on desalination. In Tampa, Fla., the largest operating seawater desalination plant in North America provides the region with about 25 million gallons of drinking water daily, enough to meet about 10 percent of the region’s needs.

In 2010, the coastal town of Sand City, Calif., fired up a small desalination facility near the proposed Monterey plant, making it the first city in the state to draw drinking water from the Pacific Ocean.

Algeria is building what is slated to be the world's biggest reverse osmosis seawater desalination plant. It is expected to produced 500,000 cubic meters of water per day. Plans are in the works in Israel for a slightly larger one.

In Australia, a plant expected to be the country's largest is forecast to be completed in 2011 near Melbourne, which in recent years has seen both record high temperatures and record low water stores. The Wonthaggi plant is expected to generate 440,000 cubic meters of water per day — enough to supply about one-third of Melbourne's household and industrial needs.

The economics of desalination, and whether the technology is worth the high price — desalinated water can cost more than $1 per cubic meter — depends in part on geography. In the Middle East, for instance, fossil fuels are cheaper while water supplies are scarce, which makes desalination pencil out.

In Australia, the cost of desalination is more than about $3 billion per plant. But experiencing the impacts of water shortages firsthand has made Australia more willing to foot the bill for costly projects, said Heather Cooley, a senior research associate at the , an Oakland, Calif.-based research group that focuses on water issues.

"In Australia they're very concerned about climate change," Cooley said. "They understand that what they're experiencing now, there will be more of it in the future."


The quote 'they truly ran out of water' is pure industry hype.

Southern Australia has (until the recent deluges) certainly had a crisis and has a long-term problem, but we have always had an erratic climate.  A few places did nearly run out, but the rest of us coped.  We need to do much more, but there is much we can do without resorting to desal, which is highly energy intensive and expensive and cannot be a major or long-term solution.  There is great scope to adapt agriculture, industry and homes to efficient water use, and it's generally much cheaper.


Just like Australia there are many countries like Israel who are running out of clean water. Desalination is one solution but unless we do something to stop global warming clean water will be soon a problem for many...

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