Access to clean water is essential for survival; however, billions of people experience water shortages every year.
Access to clean water is essential for survival; however, billions of people experience water shortages every year. The effects of water scarcity can alter many areas of society, ranging from disease to economic decline.
California is currently at the forefront of the water crisis, experiencing the most severe drought in over 1,000 years. Despite direct access to large bodies of water, many of its communities are experiencing a water emergency. Desalination presents a potential solution to these extreme conditions and lack of resources.
What Is Desalination?
Desalination, also referred to as desalting, is the process of removing salt from seawater to create potable water. This is done through reverse osmosis, which involves separating the molecules found in water from the ocean to remove excess minerals and salts. The finished product is a portable solution that is safe for consumption and other uses.
There are three primary methods used for desalination. These are multi-stage flash distillation, multi-effect distillation, and vapor compression distillation. Each involves treating water with high pressure to remove unsafe substances. In addition to salt, desalination eliminates chemicals, bacteria, and metals from water.
The process of desalination is necessary for palatable uses, as ocean water is not ideal for drinking. Its high salt content does not satisfy thirst but causes dehydration when consumed. Further, the salt contained in seawater can enter the bloodstream, causing a string of disastrous effects from kidney failure to death.
Desalinated water is most commonly used for drinking and hygiene purposes in a community. It can also be used for agricultural irrigation to assist in growing crops. The accessibility provided by desalination presents the opportunity to supply clean water to underserved areas using natural resources.
How Could Desalination Solve The Water Crisis?
Desalination is widely suggested in light of the current water crisis due to the accessibility of the Pacific Ocean in California. It is generally considered to be a low-risk solution for water scarcity based on its reliability in comparison to other water sources such as rivers and springs. While groundwater and rainfall may become scarce in dry weather, the ocean is not susceptible to depletion from droughts.
This solution to water shortages also has benefits concerning the environment. By limiting human consumption of groundwater sources, desalination helps to preserve those areas and their surrounding wildlife.
Arguments against desalination begin with the expenses required to purify water at scale. A significant amount of energy is needed for the process of desalting water and disposing of the minerals removed from it. In addition to dumping extractions from seawater in other land areas, the preservation of marine life is a concern for skeptics.
One of the biggest faults of the desalination process is its effect on the environment. It has been suggested that desalination plants should convert to using renewable energy for increased sustainability. Despite its drawbacks, desalination could be a viable solution to the water crisis in the future with these implementations.
There are currently a total of 12 existing desalination plants spread across the state of California.
What Is A Drought?
A drought is a period of dry weather that can extend for weeks, months, or years. It results in a shortage of water sources, including ground and rainwater.
During a drought, plants begin to die from the lack of rain. If it lasts for several months, a drought can cause food shortages due to a decrease in crops. Droughts also negatively impact land and wildlife.
California As A Case Study: Drought In CA
California’s climate causes recurrent droughts, some of which have lasted as long as five years. The effects of a drought include increased wildfires and restrictions on water use for the public. With so many dry weather conditions, California is frequently plagued with a shortage of water.
It is speculated that desalination is the easiest and most evident solution to California’s water crisis. There have been some applications of desalination to begin to solve the state’s water crisis over the years. However, these projects have received strong pushback from the community.
There was a desalination plant built in response to a previous drought in 1991. Due to heavy precipitation, after it was completed, the plant was shut down due to excessive expenses.
In more recent years, a private company called Poseidon proposed the development of a new desalination plant, which was rejected by the Coastal Commission. The project would have cost over $1 billion had it been approved.
There are currently a total of 12 existing desalination plants spread across the state of California. It is estimated that desalination can produce anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of water demand throughout the state.
The California Ocean Plan contains an amendment concerning desalination. Its purpose is to regulate how each facility is built and operates, inclusive of its dumping practices. The state has put this in place for quality control of drinking water during this period of scarcity.
While desalination provides clean water from accessible resources, expansion can be difficult when faced with the opposing arguments of cost and sustainability. There may be a future of desalination as the solution for California’s water crisis if these adjustments can be made for wider adoption.
Droughts impact human health, land, and wildlife.
Desalination is used to create fresh drinking water from salt water.
Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of water shortages and drought.