Ocean Desalination: A Technology With Many Pitfalls
The process discharges a thick, soupy brine that can be toxic to aquatic life. Desalination is also used in inland areas to treat brackish or polluted water.
A number of coastal regions in California are exploring the use of desalination to supplement their drinking water supplies. Desalination is an expensive, energy-intensive technology that separates salt from seawater in a process called "reverse osmosis." The process discharges a thick, soupy brine that can be toxic to aquatic life. Desalination is also used in inland areas to treat brackish or polluted water.
But desalination may be more speculative boondoggle than panacea. A plant developed by Poseidon Resources in Tampa Bay, Florida, has been shut down due to poor performance. Taxpayers put up $85-million of the plant's $110-million price tag. This may prove to be a cautionary tale for other cities considering desalination as a quick fix to their water shortage problems. Conservation and recycling programs may be a much less expensive and less risky alternative to building desalination plants.
The California Coastal Commission has released a report that takes a probing look at all aspects of ocean desalination, including environmental concerns and privatization of public water supplies. The report, a first of its kind for a state agency, also examines how international trade and investment agreements could affect the commission's ability to implement the Coastal Act when reviewing permit applications for new facilities.