Desalination process must improve as state reliance grows – Marin Independent Journal

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If the climate crisis arrives, the water crisis is already there.

As rice paddies lay fallow in California, Lake Mead water levels nearly dropped so low that the Hoover Dam could no longer generate electricity, and potentially deadly toxic dust blew in from the dried up Salton Sea.

Thirty percent of the world’s population will face water shortages by 2025. Things will only get worse.

Climate change will cause the Colorado River, which supplies water to 40 million people, irrigates 6 million acres of farmland and underpins a quarter of the national economy, to lose more than half of its flows by 2100. The depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer in the Midwest threatens agriculture so drastically that serious proposals have explored a water pipeline from Louisiana.

Beyond those particular cases of water shortage, of which California has many, warming is kicking in everywhere, whether it’s a lower water supply due to reduced snowpack and higher evaporation, or increased demand due to higher temperatures.

There is no single way out of a future in which all agriculture leaves the West, desert towns from Denver to San Diego are no longer livable, and Native Americans continue to be denied human rights. legally consecrated water. Measures like better water reuse and more sustainable groundwater management are not enough for California.

The water crisis will only be solved if we realize the once pipe dream of desalination, turning sea water into fresh water. Today, around 18,000 desalination plants produce about 1% of the world’s fresh water, with production concentrated in areas with high water scarcity such as Israel and Australia.

In 2007, San Diego County approved the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere. The Carlsbad desalination plant now supplies 50 million gallons of fresh water per day. And last month, a small desalination plant was unanimously approved to supply fresh water to Orange County.

Desalination is also an important part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s national water plan. But even state-of-the-art factories still suffer from problems that jeopardize their ubiquity.

The desalination process is so energy-intensive that desalination plants often require carbon-emitting power plants right next door, which can increase costs by up to 10 times more than groundwater. High pressure seawater inflow also threatens ocean life and brine production threatens coastal environments.

With high energy consumption, environmental hazards and high costs imposed on taxpayers, desalination faces strong opposition across the political spectrum. But this resistance overlooks both the need for desalination – at least compared to more disastrous options – and the potential promise of improved desalination technologies.

Saudi Arabia recently authorized a massive solar project to fully power an existing plant, demonstrating the potential for a carbon-free desalination future. To its credit, the Orange County plant will use angled wells that draw water from beneath the seabed to protect ocean life, and the brine will be treated at a nearby wastewater treatment facility.

Energy recycling, combined with better electronics, enables less energy-intensive (and cheaper) methods of desalination, including breakthrough concepts like the use of shock waves.

Desalination will be a major part of California’s water future, and its inevitability demands research, policy and funding attention from a human right at risk. Safe, efficient, and clean desalination means fewer dams, cheaper and wider access to water, and the ability to support population growth while continuing to produce food for the country and the world.

The alternative is dry, dusty and deadly.

Grayson Zulauf is a clean energy entrepreneur. Distributed by CalMatters.org.

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