Why Desalination is Not the Answer to the World's Water Issues

Water is the foundation of life. Not only are our bodies made up of over 60% of water but we require clean, safe drinking water to survive as well as to grow our food and move our waste stream. While our population has exploded the amount of freshwater on the planet has stayed constant. Water use has grown more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. Today nearly 700 million people worldwide suffer from water scarcity.And that number is expected to grow to 1.8 billion in just 10 years.

Water scarcity is a worldwide issue. California’s epic drought has shone a bright light on this alarming problem. The lack of rain in California has resulted in 80% of the state to be extreme or exceptional drought, forcing water restrictions in urban areas and cutoffs to some farmers. Historical observations point to this drought being among the worst ever. Levels of rainfall, snowpack, reservoirs, and streamflow are all at record lows.

If you are currently living in a drought stricken area, you have been experiencing first- hand the impact of a water shortage. For many of us we occasionally hear about it in the news but it hasn’t really affected our daily lives. Well that is all about to change. Water shortages are real and with climate changes are going to be more widespread and frequent.Water shortages will impact everything in our daily lives – from where we vacation to how we do our laundry.

As scientists and government agencies seek answers to this crisis, desalination has been touted as the solution.But desalination is not a silver bullet. It is exorbitantly expensive, requires large amounts of energy, it is environmentally damaging plus it is only really viable for coastal communities.

To put it simply, desalination removes salt and other minerals from water. Most desalination technology follows one of two methods thermal distillation and membrane filtration. Based on methods used for thousands of years, distillation involves boiling sea water to produce steam—purified water vapor. The steam is collected in a separate container and cooled so it will condense back into water.

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