The growing scarcity of fresh water around the world is becoming a bigger and bigger concern with each passing year. More than one billion people living in arid countries are already feeling the effects of fresh water shortages, and even in the U.S. worries about lack of fresh water in certain areas. The problem is causing scientists to search for ways to provide fresh water to the world’s blossoming population, which is expected to grow by 50% by 2050.
What is desalination?
Desalination is a process where salty ocean water is pushed through filters at high pressure and distilled into drinking water. As one of the most promising answers to the shortage of fresh water, desalination doesn’t come without a cost.
What is the impact of desalination?
It makes sense that desalinated ocean water is a very expensive form of fresh water. The costs of collection and distillation are high, as is the cost of distribution. According to the non-profit Food & Water Watch, desalinated water is five times the cost of fresh water. That is going to be a hard pill to swallow for developing countries that are already strapped for cash.
Living creatures will also be lost in the desalination process - mostly microbial creatures and the larvae of sea life. Intake pipes could also pull some larger creatures from the sea, and this loss of life is going to be part of the hidden costs of desalination. In addition, the salt residue from desalinated water can’t be just dumped back into the ocean. Saltwater sludge would have the same types of harmful effects that urban run-off and run-off form agricultural operations have, and would have to be disposed of properly.
Are there other options for fresh water?
Better fresh water management practices should be implemented whether desalination is widely used or not. Practices that lower water usage in manufacturing, and usages such as lawn care can help regions meet fresh water needs without intense desalination. Most experts recommend that continuing to find ways to conserve the fresh water that we do have is important.
Desalination is becoming more and more common with more than 12,000 desalination plants already creating fresh water in approximately 120 countries. As the human population grows, it is expected that desalination plants will continue to spring up. While it may be inevitable to use desalination for fresh water, researchers are looking for ways to make the process more eco-friendly and cost effective.