To desal or not to desal, that is the damn question. It’s man vs. nature, progress vs. preserve, kill or be killed, as human development ceaselessly encroaches upon the earth. Whether refurbishing an old railway along Shakespeare Beach in Dover, UK (photo) or engaging a $1 billion battle for a desalination plant in southern California, we will ultimately have our way.
Not so fast, thirsty one.
Desalination is extremely expensive, both environmentally and financially. Understand that hundreds of millions, and sometimes billions of dollars are required to bring this method of freshwater production online. Since the 1940s, certain desert-centric, oil wealthy nations have satisfied fresh water demands via desalination. Saudi Arabia is a global leader in developing new technology, with solar-powered plants soon going live. And the UAE produces nearly 100% of their drinking water from the ocean. In this part of the world, cash is a rounding error and environmental damage is the cost of survival.
Desalination is happening in the USA as well. Tampa Bay, FL and San Diego, CA have significant desalination operations in use (25 MGD and 50 MGD, respectively). But the environmental cost is gaining a much higher profile. Take Huntington Beach, CA, where years of surfer dudes riding the perfect curl have rolled by, as the large desal player, Poseidon Water, presses its case. Their full-tilt, anchors away endeavor — political contributions, regulatory wrangling, and drought-quenching PR campaigns — are up against a seawall of environmental advocacy intent on protecting all things ocean, whether pristine vistas, seal populations, or the plankton at the bottom of the food chain. But the orca in the room is the California State Water Resources Control Board, who treat their mandate as passionately and bureaucratically as the Poseidon of lore. There’s no flushing a toilet without S.W.R.C.B. consent.
Fascinating to observe, with long-term implications for our fresh water supply, our environment, our very way of life. Pay attention. This is trump-ian stuff.
Photo credit: Dover Marina – Shakespeare Beach Rail-works files