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Desalination, With a Grain of Salt: A California Perspective. Desal Response Group Aquarium of the Pacific October 2006. Background. Seawater desalination is widely and successfully used in parts of the world. Interest in seawater desalination is growing.

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desalination with a grain of salt a california perspective

Desalination, With a Grain of Salt: A California Perspective

Desal Response Group

Aquarium of the Pacific

October 2006

background
Background
  • Seawater desalination is widely and successfully used in parts of the world.
  • Interest in seawater desalination is growing.
  • Understanding the real costs and benefits is critical to avoiding costly mistakes.
  • The Pacific Institute was asked to prepare an independent California assessment: funded by Packard and the California Coastal and Marine Initiative.
    • Cooley et al. 2006. http://www.pacinst.org/reports/desalination
findings
Findings
  • Potential benefits of seawater desalination are great.
  • But the economic, environmental, and social costs of wide commercialization remain high.
  • Alternatives can provide these benefits at lower cost, with fewer environmental and social impacts, especially for California.
economic questions
Economic Questions
  • There are some economic advantages that are poorly understood or quantified.
    • Reliability; ecosystem water; independence of supply
  • Actual costs are neither as low nor dropping as fast as claimed.
    • subsidies, interest rates, plant size, energy costs, salinity of the source water, etc.
  • Despite cost reductions in recent years, desalinationremains more expensive than other California water supply and demand management options.
water supply diversity and reliability
Water Supply Diversity and Reliability
  • Largely independent of weather conditions
  • Offers local control
  • Source diversity

Source: DWR website

Report describes a method to quantify the economic value of these benefits based on financial portfolio theory.

Source: USGS website

water quality
Water Quality
  • Desalination produces high-quality water (low TDS).
  • But there are uncertainties about blending with existing water distribution systems.
  • Desalination can introduce contaminants from corrosion or from source water.
  • New standards may be needed.
environmental risks and benefits
Environmental Risks and Benefits
  • Desalination offers environmental advantages:
    • Source displacement
  • And environmental risks:
    • Water intakes (impingement and entrainment)
    • Brine discharge
    • Energy use

Marine Mammal Center

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

climate change
Climate Change
  • California is especially vulnerable to climate changes, particularly along the coast. Issues to be addressed include:
    • Future sea-level (intake, outfall, design)
    • Storm frequency and intensity
    • Implications of high energy requirements

Source: USGS

siting and operation
Siting and Operation
  • Coastal development and land use issues are unresolved.
  • Privatization concerns must be addressed.
  • Co-location offers advantages and disadvantages, but have been poorly assessed.
  • The regulatory process should be clarified.

Source: USGS

conclusions
Conclusions
  • Desalination is likely to play an important role in California’s future water portfolio.
  • The future isn’t here yet.
  • Current proposals fail to adequately address the complicated costs and benefits associated with seawater desalination.
  • Decision-making process must be open and transparent, and it isn’t yet.