They used to call California ocean desalination a disaster. But water crisis brings new look at desalination plants
As California and Arizona debate how to restore ocean water to rivers, they also are looking at how to remove the excess water from plants used for desalination.
When I was in grad school, the water crisis of the late 1980s was still not a serious issue. Desalination plants had been built, but people were using them as a last resort in droughts that could not be fixed.
The water crises of the past 10 years have changed everything. Desalination plants are now running more often. Water officials are now saying that they are not the last resort. Desalination may be the solution.
Desalination plants typically create 20 to 40 percent of the fresh water used in the California and Arizona deserts. Water management agencies are now starting to study how to reuse this water at farms and parks.
Desalination plants are not like nuclear plants. They are like huge washing machines with millions of gallons of water passing through them every day. As the Arizona Corporation Commission’s study of the Arizona water crisis notes, desalination plants are a major part of the problem. But they are also an essential part of the solution.
Water policy experts say new techniques for removing water directly from the ocean will allow small farmers to plant new crops in arid regions, and they will make it possible to capture as much as 90 percent of the water in the ocean that evaporates during the day.
And because desalination plants are not run by local utilities, but by the large corporate companies that own them, they can pass the costs onto consumers.
One of the things we’ve learned from the water crises of the past decade is how far the state and federal government must go to protect communities from a water shortage. The people who live along the ocean have a particularly bleak future.
Desalination was once thought to be something that couldn’t happen in California, the state that produces the world’s most perishable food. But the desert-dwelling population has been forced to fight its water wars, and