Desalination: Unlocking Lessons from Yesterday’s Solution

Debbie Cook is the former mayor of Huntington Beach, California and was the Democratic candidate for California’s 46th Congressional District in 2008. Cook has had a long interest in the interrelationship between water and energy policy. Her writing on sustainability issues has appeared in the Huffington Post, Energy Bulletin, The Oil Drum and Post Carbon Institute, of which she is also a board member.

There is powerful information waiting to be unleashed in water data. If it were set free it would force us to re-think how we use, develop, sell, transfer, and dispose of water. Rather than focusing on the miles per gallon our cars get, we might consider how much water per mile that fuel's production required. Rather than arguing over how much energy is being used to produce water, we would give credit to how much water is required to produce energy. Rather than focusing on whether our food is grown locally, we would consider how much water it took to grow that food in our locality.

For all the lip-service we give to water and its pivotal role, why is there not a U.S. Water Information Administration modeled after the U. S. Energy Information Administration? Established in 1977 as a response to the 1973 oil disruptions, the EIA “collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.” With a budget of $111 million per year, the agency produces data and analysis free of influence from the Executive Branch. The water sector screams for such a resource.

Sunset at Huntington Beach, California. Source: paige_eliz on Flickr.

My particular interest in water began in 2003 when I served on the California Desalination Task Force, a group appointed by the State Legislature to look into the opportunities and impediments of desalination. Data is at the heart of reaching conclusions on a technology. Where did the data come from that allowed the committee to write its findings and recommendations? Who verified the veracity of the data? Would it stand up to scrutiny? I have spent eight years chasing such questions.

Information is not easy to come by. There are over 52,000 public and private water utilities in the U.S alone operating largely in anonymity. Public utilities offer varying levels of transparency, private utilities virtually none. The desalination industry consists of over 30,000 companies producing membranes, tanks, chemicals, pipes, monitoring, design, construction, mitigation, engineering, drilling, waste management, and consulting services. Many are competitors and hold data close to the vest. Foraging through public information, industry publicity, scientific papers, and news stories produces information that is contradictory and confusing.

There are 19 desalination projects proposed for Californiaʼs coast. With billions of dollars at stake, the public deserves more clarity on financial and environmental impacts. What are the assumptions that underlie our decisions to move forward? What issues are being left unaddressed? What lessons have we missed that could inform better water planning? Water agencies may be satisfied with the industryʼs propaganda, but my research suggests they should pause and re-examine where we have been and where we are going.

Los Angeles annual rainfall 1876-2007. Will cyclical weather patterns turn desalination plants into expensive orphans? Source: Data from Los Angeles Almanac.

Remembering the past

Desalination proponents throw out numbers that cannot be verified or replicated and those numbers are repeated by the media and government officials as if they were fact.

An article published by the Los Angeles Times on December 4, 2010 is an example.

“Although still not cheap, the cost of desalinated water has been cut by more than half since 1998, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.”

I contacted the reporter to find the source of this statement and received no reply. I searched the USGS website and found an out-of-date overview of desalination with an a unsourced sentence that looked like it might be the culprit of the reporter’s “fact.”

“As of 1998, the high cost of desalination has kept it from being used more often, as it can cost over $1,000 – $2,200 per acre-foot (1992 cost basis) to desalinate seawater as compared to about $200 per acre-foot for water from normal supply sources. Desalination technology is improving and costs are falling, though, and Tampa Bay, Florida is currently desalinizing water at a cost of only $650 per acre foot.”

Thinking there might be additional data available from the USGS, I contacted them. They were unable to direct me to any reports or studies to verify the veracity of the claim that Tampa Bay is producing water at $650 an acre-foot. Most likely the figure came from the original presentations made to Tampa Bay Water over a decade ago. Price was probably the motivating factor in Tampa Bayʼs decision to construct a project, but as NOAA stated in a 2003 publication, “Time will not only tell the environmental impacts of Tampa Bay’s desalination plant, but it will also determine if it’s really producing the cheapest desalted seawater in the world.” It would be wonderful if time did tell its secrets. Unfortunately for truth seekers, time may tell but will anyone be listening.

Last March, according to Tampa Bayʼs General Manager, the cost of production was $1140/acre-foot. Itʼs anyoneʼs guess how he came up with that figure. If you calculate the marginal cost of water based on what the plant has actually produced since 2003, then the cost of water is closer to $1826/acre-foot. Either way, the L.A. Times reporter did the public a disservice by perpetuating the myth that desalinated water can be produced at $650 per acre-foot. I could almost hear the gullible politicians jumping on board.

The reporter could have provided a valuable public service had she written about Tampaʼs twelve years of bankruptcies, technical challenges, and cost overruns. A search of news archives produced an interesting collection of stories, likely with similar fact checking issues, but nevertheless, interesting for the overall picture they paint.

  • 1998 engineering contract awarded to Stone & Webster
  • 2000 Stone and Webster declares bankruptcy
  • 2001 Covanta (partnering with Poseidon Resources) hired to construct and operate for 30 years at $7 million/year
  • 2003 (March) initial output begins producing 3 million gallons but acceptance test fails
  • 2003 (August) plant is shut due to clogged filters
  • 2004 Tampa Bay pays $4.4 million for Covanta to go away
  • 2004 (September) American Water Services hired to fix plant at cost of $29 million. Completion projected for 2006.
  • 2006 (January) Agreement reached between Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) (agency funding $85m of project) and Tampa Bay for payments: 25% when plant is running, 50% when it operates at an annual average rate of 12.5 mg/d for 12 consecutive months, 25% when plant produces 25 mg/d for four consecutive months.
  • 2006 (November) Tampa Bay Executive Director announces additional delays
  • 2007 (August) Tampa Bay announces plant should be running by Halloween
  • 2007 (December) Officials complete 14 day acceptance test. American Water contracts to run plant for 15 years.
  • 2008 $48 million over its original budget of $110 million, the plant is operating
  • 2009 plant producing 16-19 mg/d
  • 2010 (February) plant passes final benchmark, receives final payment
  • 2010 (April) plant put on “standby” due to Tampa Bayʼs budget constraints
  • 2010 (October) Pinellas County (customer of Tampa Bay Water) projects water rate increases of 16% by 2014
  • 2010 (December) SWFMD looks into sanctions against Tampa Bay Water for failure to operate facility in accord with agreement.
  • 2011 (January) Tampa Bay announces plans to reach 9 mg/d production by end of January.

Reviewing the news accounts of the Tampa Bay experience gave me pause. Having served in public office, I am familiar with the face-saving, “circle the wagons” mentality that takes over an agency when problems start to mount. Unfortunately, it means others are not likely to learn any lessons.

No one contemplated a standby plant at Tampa Bay. Now, faced with real production costs higher than the rate guaranteed to customers ($841/acre-foot versus $1140 or more), Tampa Bay will eventually have to raise rates or renegotiate an agreement that locks them into a 17 mg/d production rate.

Exhume the dead

Everyone has skeletons in their closets, desalination is no exception. Burying them does a disservice to the millions of public dollars that have been invested. Letʼs celebrate their weaknesses so that we may never repeat their mistakes. There may be many dozens of such projects, but here are a few that have experienced their share of controversy: Santa Barbara, Key West, Santa Catalina, Yuma.

  • Santa Barbaraʼs project was mothballed before a single drop of water was introduced into its distribution system.
  • Key West built a 130 mile pipeline and implements water rationing when necessary, thus avoiding operation of its plant.
  • Catalina Island hasnʼt operated its plant in years, relying on price signals with water rates that are perhaps the highest in the nation. Their top water tier is over $10,000/acre-foot. In response to the utilityʼs rate increase request, the California Public Utilities Commission had this to say about the Catalina facility: “…for Catalina Island in 2005, desalinated water accounted for only 25% of total water production, but desalination accounted for approximately 70% of total electricity usage.” [Despite repeated requests, the operator, Southern California Edison, would not divulge information about the plants operation.]
  • The 72mg/d Yuma desalter, constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation, was built to comply with a treaty with Mexico. It was completed in 1992, operated at 1/3 capacity for 6 months and then shut down in 1993. Other, less expensive options for treaty compliance made it unnecessary.

In addition to these projects, there are many pilot projects that litter Southern California. Iʼve often wondered why every proposed project has to be preceded by a pilot project. There is one in Los Angeles County that has already expended $23 million of public money. It follows one built in Long Beach which follows one built in Carlsbad which follows one… You get the picture. Itʼs insane.

Go slow, include all stakeholders

Australia began its desalination building boom in 2004 amid a prolonged drought, ultimately committing $10 billion for six projects. Public participation consisted of after-the- fact review of incomplete details. Construction contracts even contain redacted details of critical information. Decisions were made at the Cabinet level and one officialʼs rationale for excluding the public was that information would be “incomprehensible” to the them.

Officials further aggravated their problems by approving multiple projects that competed with each other for materials and labor. Perth, completed its first project in 2006 with the lowest projected water costs of $1677/acre-foot. Later projects came in significantly higher. The Productivity Commission, the governmentʼs independent research and advisory body, announced in July an investigation into the financial and environmental impact of Australiaʼs water sector. A final report is expected in August. The number of customers seeking financial assistance has risen by 20% in two years. The auditor-general of Australia has estimated that the $5.7 billion Wonthaggi plant in Victoria will cost $24 billion over the life of its 28-year contract and water increases of 20% per year for five years have been recommended. The first political backlash occurred in Novemberʼs elections where the Labor party took a beating. With rain returning and reservoirs rising to normal, the Queensland/ Gold Coast Tugun plant and Victoriaʼs Wonghaggi plant are proposed to be placed on standby to ease the burden on ratepayers.

Assess the weak links

Energy makes up the lions share of the costs of producing water, whether from the reverse osmosis process or a thermal process. Like the oft reported stories of “new energy” sources, the desalination industry is constantly bragging about new technologies that have reduced the energy demands of their process. I hope they are true, but until the industry can convert those promises into lower costs, they are no better than the hype of biofuels or perpetual motion.

Despite the widespread belief that the Middle East has unlimited energy resources, both water security and energy security are a real threat to their economy and world security. How long will the Middle East, where as much as 90% of water is coming from ocean desalination be able to afford the luxury of desalinated water? According to some reports, water rates in Saudi Arabia cover less than half of one percent of the cost of producing desalinated water. Subsidizing water, food, and gasoline is seen as a way of sharing the countryʼs oil wealth. But the absence of any price signal has led to some of the highest per capita water consumption in the world, and highest greenhouse gas emissions in the world. According to a recent study, Saudi Arabia now ranks 6th in greenhouse gas emissions, half directly attributable to desalination. Authorities are straining under the burden of water and energy demands pushed by burgeoning population growth. Despite allocating $150 billion over the next five years for power and water projects, they have been forced to abandon their goal of becoming self-sufficient in wheat production. With natural gas in short supply, the feedstock to produce electricity will continue to be oil. The irony is that oil revenues make up 90% of the Saudi governmentʼs budget so every barrel diverted to water is a barrel that cannot be sold on the market to fill state coffers.

The rising costs of energy are not just impacting the cost of electricity, they impact the entire desalination supply chain: mining of materials, (e.g. 6 million pounds of titanium alone are required for the worldʼs largest desalination plant in Saudi Arabia); manufacturing and shipping of components; construction; continuous supply of chemicals that are derived from fossil fuels; maintaining equipment; and any necessary treatment for the discharged brine and chemicals. We have long assumed that water was the limiting resource for societies, but water is just the end product of a very long supply chain, with any link capable of affecting reliability.

Focus on affordable solutions

Worldwide, humans have quickly and wastefully consumed water from the cheapest sources by over-pumping aquifers and over-allocating rivers. Weʼve turned to technology to eke out more but technology is not without its costs. Every remaining incremental gallon of water will come at a higher and higher price. Are we nearing a breaking point?

Prior to the 2008 run-up in oil prices, gasoline, like water, was widely believed to be inelastic–that consumption of such an essential commodity would grow despite the price. But as gasoline prices headed toward $4/gallon, discretionary spending shrank and the economy shrank.

The rising cost of essentials like food, shelter, energy, and water has a disproportionate impact on low income households. Low income assistance programs for water vary significantly from one jurisdiction or utility to the next. For example, in California, San Jose Water provides a 15% discount on the total bill while Valencia Water provides a 50% discount off the monthly service charge. Such programs shift the costs onto remaining consumers and businesses many of whom are themselves facing economic distress. Are these programs sustainable in the face of continuous water rate increases and growing economic challenges?

“A solution isnʼt a solution if it isnʼt affordable.” Those were the cautionary words of Cuban energy expert Mario Avila who visited California in September of 2010. Cuba has lived through a number of energy crises. The one with which I was familiar was the oil shock that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Mario explained that it was the lesser known electricity crisis following the 2005 hurricane season that exposed the vulnerability of their water system. Two power plants were destroyed by two storms plunging the island into relentless daily blackouts. Without electricity, water didn’t move, it could not be treated, and it could not be discharged. Castro declared an “energy revolution” and within a six month window, thousands of “social workers” were deployed to inventory and replace every incandescent light bulb on the island and promote zero interest loans for efficient appliances. Rather than replace the two large power plants, the nation built smaller, distributed power plants improving the resiliency of their system and restoring power and water.

Resilience should be the goal of water planners but most options that improve resilience–water harvesting, conservation, demand management– receive a tepid reception. One major reason is because water providers are paid to sell water, not conserve it. And there isn’t an ongoing assurance for funding conservation or efficiency. When budgets get tight, the conservation budget is the first to be eliminated as was done last year by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). Ironically, while eliminating the conservation fund, MWD was approving subsidies for desalination and raising water rates because their conservation message had resulted in lower water consumption. Conservation and low tech options for reducing water demand will never compete against capital projects in the current regulatory framework.

Level the playing field

It isn’t surprising that an industry that canʼt even quantify water in a consistent unit of measure (acre-feet, gallons, cubic meters, units, cubic foot), would apply different criteria to different water options. The result is a misleading comparison between options.

Hereʼs an example. Say a proponent tells you that the new desalination project will produce water at $1000/acre-foot. Youʼre told that your city is buying water from MWD for $750/acre-foot. The natural reaction will be to compare $750 to $1000. But MWDʼs actual production costs are closer to $200 of that $750 figure. That means $550 is covering their fixed costs. So even if you reduce your imported water by 10%, the remaining costs will have to be levelized across all water purchasers (including your cityʼs 90% remainder). Communities that are not the recipients of the desalinated water will nevertheless be footing the bill through subsidies and cost sharing.

Similarly there has not been a fair method for comparing conservation measures to traditional water sources. For example, the cost effectiveness of rainwater tanks has traditionally been calculated by comparing the cost of installation against the savings on household bills. But this ignores the broader cost savings to the community in deferred water infrastructure, storm water infrastructure and environmental externalities like greenhouse gas emissions. When those are accounted for, rainwater harvesting is superior to desalination.

A model already exists for a regulatory framework that would address such conflicting motivations. In 1982 California became the first state to adopt an electric revenue decoupling mechanism. This gave utilities the incentive to promote conservation and efficiency because their ability to recoup their fixed costs was decoupled from the volume of their sales. In addition to decoupled rates, California has a “loading order” of energy preferences that place priority on the least expensive and most environmentally protective resources. When meeting Californiaʼs energy needs, conservation and efficiency are considered before additional generation is added.

A sustainable conservation budget would give priority to cost effective programs like water capture, drip irrigation, water recycling, low-flow devices, and water management programs that reduce demand, costs, and bring true resilience to the water sector.

Left to compete on an uneven field, conservation will remain the bastard step-child to desalination. In 2006, many communities in Australia were offering substantial rebates on water tanks. By 2007, demand was so high that prisoners were put to work building tanks. Government leaders, buoyed by studies that demonstrated other options as more cost effective than desalination, pledged $250m toward their goal of reaching 500,000 households. Then in 2008, with the collapsing economy and in the midst of the desalination boom, the Bligh government dismissed wide scale rollout of water tanks. Some officials sensed a threat of competition to their capital projects, going so far as to suggest the licensing of water tanks so as to enable levying taxes on rainwater collected.

Remove the rose-colored glasses

Technology has its place. But it is not magic and shouldn’t be seen as the solution to all our problems. That which is technologically feasible is not necessarily economically feasible. Desalination cannot be “greened” by utilizing solar or wind energy for its energy requirements. Not only is the scale of such a proposal ginormous, it ignores the fact that all renewable energy resources are backstopped by fossil fuels. Moreover, the price of such a proposal would significantly increase the cost of desalination, exacerbating the economic problems of water pricing and availability.

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned over the past eight years of observing the desalination and water industry is that we create our own problems. And we are stuck in a perpetual feedback loop applying fixes to yesterdayʼs solutions. Thatʼs the perfect recipe for rear-ending our future. The remedy is to increase our awareness of unintended consequences and the dynamic relationships between water, the environment, and human settlements. It is a systems thinking approach that starts with a willingness to open our minds and apply critical thinking.

To that end, I welcome all participants.

You lost all your credibility when you said you wanted another government agency to keep up with water supplies, usage, etc. You see how the federal government messes up everything it touches and then want it to mess with our water? What a perfectly pitiful solution! The EIA already catches a load of excrement regularly about the accuracy of the numbers it produces. Why do think a federal water agency would be better?

Any gardeners out there? How about an oil drum that demonstrates a low-petroleum input garden or something? We need to start TEACHING people some skill not scaring them.

Not just one installment - a whole series? Maybe? Ask Sharon Astyk or somebody.

Thanks, Debbie.

With the the ongoing push to eliminate federal agencies (DOE, Education Dept, USPS, Health, etc.) good luck with creating a new agency for water resources. That, however, doesn't mean we in the US don't need one. Water disputes are nothing new; Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been fighting over the Chattahoochee watershed for decades, in an area of relatively high rainfall. The Army Corp of Engineers is tasked with managing these resources at the Federal level. Perhaps they could be the go-to agency to compile and verify some of the data that Debbie refers to.

That said, we are well past the point where more layers of bureaucracy and technology will solve these things. Debbie's description of false starts in California seems to bear this out. Conservation is an imperative at this point. Saying that the future of water availability for agriculture, industry, power production and domestic use looks austere may be a gross understatement.

The choice is not about a govt agency that might or might not do a good job, and some alternative organization-there is no alternative organization out there not subject to too much influence from whoever might fund and organize it.

The choice lies between having that proposed govt agency, as ONE MORE source of data, to use in making comparisions and drawing conclusions, and not having it.

I have been both a long haired hippie card carrying ACLU member and a pretty straightlaced conservative at different periods over the last half century, and as such, I am as suspicious of govt as anybody you will find.

What we must realize is that while such agencies are subject to regulatory capture and political manipulation, they nevertheless do do huge amounts of useful work.

It might take a little reading between the lines to make use of it however.For example, the often posted ( here on TOD ) charts and graphs outlining hoped for future oil supply include a huge portion labeled " yet to be discovered".

It takes only a few minutes to find other graphs and charts depicting discovery trends and histories, from the same agencies.

Anybody with a modicum of brains who passed ninth grade school math can see that there is VERY BIG PROBLEM INVOLVING involving the discrepancy between hoped for and actual discoveries.

Bueracrats are not able to say so in so many words, due to fear of creating a panic, but the message is plain.

More data is virtually always a bargain.

Various business types with plans good for THEM but not for US will of course be able to use such data to further their plans sometimes; but on other occasions, local people and govt can use it to prevent thier being robbed of water.

In the end, a lot of middle of the road but poorly informed people, inclined to distrust environmentalists in particular and businessmen in general,and who mean well, will be swayed by govt gathered data as they tend to regard it as relatively trustworthy.

The facts in respect to water are overwhelmingly on the side of the environmentalists and conservationists..having them gathered and organized and put before the public with the stamp of a federal agency would be a very good move;your local govt will pay far more attention to you if you show up at a public hearing armed with a federal report than a report fron the WWW or Greenpeace , etc.

As a matter of fact, there are usually standing policies requiring such offocially sanctioned data to be incorporated into planning processes.A city manager or county administrator can be challenged grounds of professional accountability for ignoring such data from another govt agency.

Another hundred million to fund such an agency will come to less than a third the price of a small bottle of water, per capita.This simply has to be a bargain, even in times such as these.

Wise Old Farmer, I always appreciate your sanity and civility. Indeed, agencies trust their own just as TODers trust their own. Without any data, electeds believe the marketing and hype from an industry that is making billions on their ignorance. Once persuaded, it is virtually impossible for a policy maker to divert from his/her position--partly because it elicits the criticism that the person "changed positions," as if that were an evil thing. Like you, I think the pittance spent for data collection pales in comparison to the billions being spent to build what will amount to a stranded asset.

My concern with a water regulatory or water information agency is that it will rapidly devolve into the worthlessness we see in the Agriculture Department, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, etc...

In other words: another agency that promotes industrial interests over conservation and regulation. There's not much incentive to fund another entity that is doomed to be stuffed with revolving door politicos and lobbyists.

As I suggested above, The Army Corp of Engineers may be an option, as they are already tasked with management of many water resources. The military is the only Govt. dept. that has openly discussed Peak Oil (except for some bits from the EIA), and the public generally doesn't question military spending. It would be easy to slip a couple of hundred million into the massive military budget, and the politicians could dodge accountability and criticism somewhat.

Agreed, but it is a sad state when everyone seems to agree that "The only government agency we trust is the military". That way lies tyrany, proven since Ronam Empire days, (and despite the yet-unproven faith of Egyptians).

There's a fairly long history, certainly in Florida, of the Corps being involved in water issues. It was my impression that in recent decades they had become somewhat more thoughtful than the good old days of digging ditches and draining swamp.

We soon forget the Army Corps of Engineers constructed the levies around New Orleans that failed when hurricane Katrina blew into town in 2005.

On the other hand, it would hardly be fair to blame the US Army Corps of Engineers for this failure, nor for any of the human tragedy resulting from the flooding, seeing as the weather conditions (including high storm surges and probable flooding) were predicted.

"The Army Corps of Engineers says the system will protect the city and suburbs from a Category 3 hurricane that pushes in enough seawater to raise Lake Pontchartrain 11.5 feet above sea level"

Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane resulting in

"... demonstrated surge levels ranging from 13.5 to 17.5 feet above sea level"

"The city received protection to levels of 13.5 to 17.5 feet ASL in the vast majority of locations, two to six feet above what was paid for, yet three locations unfortunately did fail under the impact of surge well in excess of the pre-approved design specifications, and allowed the city to flood. Although additional design considerations might have protected the entire I-wall system to Katrina's fury, and allowed the downtown area to escape the resulting devastating post storm flood damage, this must be attributed to an act of nature rather than a design or construction failure. New Orleans got all it paid for in I-walls, and then some."

New Orleans got all it paid for in I-walls, and then some."

I'm guessing we all footed that bill, wonder just what percentage of the total cost of the walls New Orleans actually paid--and how much business benefit the construction was responsible for.

The LAST thing we need is a federal water commission or whatever you wanto call it. Water is a LOCAL issue. We need to discuss "resources" "reserves" some thermodynamics, math statistics and maybe a little human behaviour.

It's both. It's local and it's a Nation's (probably #1) concern.

Easy to call it 'local' when you have some.. what do you call it when you run dry? What do you do when your Local water comes down through 7 states, or comes up from an aquifer under 5 states?

It's easy to holler out 'every man for himself'.. but it's often a woman who reminds us of where we came from, and where we may be headed if we keep on that way.

Well said, Johkul

I thank my Sky Daddy everytime I reflect upon the fact that our personal water supply comes down to us from the very rough mountians immediately behind our house, in the form of small streams and springs and well water.Being at the very head of the watershed, we will not have any problems so long as the rains continue to come.

I sure am glad I don't live someplace where a single bomb dropped many miles away would condemn me to dying of thirst; probably most of the people in places such as Saudi Arabia are at such risk.

OFM The venerable Dept. of Energy which has failed miserably in their stated purpose, over the last 40 years or so, has produced some good energy data, but it is politically bottled up so the average JQ public never sees it. What gives you even the slightest hope that another agency carrying bad news would be any different?

Treeman, At one point, a few years ago, I would have asked exactly the same question.

But I believe the ground has shifted since then, and the public is slowly but ever more surely becomung aware of problems such as our water supply.

There are now lots more environmentally conscious people than ever before-people such as rep[oprters on local beats, teachers in public schools, and bloggers by the tens of millions.

The people on "our side" of the question are often in a position such that they must support anything they say with offocially sanctioned data- by which I mean data such as that gathered by federal and state agencies.

When I was an ag teacher, many years ago, I insisted on teaching a lesson concerning the health effects of tobacco, along with the mandated couple of lessons on tobacco, as it was an important local and state industry.

I got away with it because I could point to the surgeon general's report as definitive evidence, not subject to being dismissed by thoroughly pissed off local tobacco farmers or the tobacco lobby as propaganda or public relations.

At least one of them died some years later of lung cancer-as did my former father in law, and a couple more guys I used to know.All of them smoked of course;I have yet to meet my first victim of lung cancer who didn't smoke, although there are some.

Data with the govt stamp of approval is a powerful shield which can be utilized by those otherwise worried about thier jobs if they go against the flow and publicize unpleasant news.Over the last few months or a year, I have noticed a great many articles in newspapers and magazines which mention peak oil as a real possibility if not reality;most of them mention govt sources as well as private.Govt data is the wedge the authors need, if so inclined, to put peak oil into mainstream publications.

At least two hard core conservative bau types of my acquaintance are now believers in peak oil because I introduced them to EIA data and to the JOE reports issued by the Pentagon.

But to answer your question more directly, i don't actually expect much from such agencies in terms of direct action.

"Why do think a federal water agency would be better?"

What is your solution? We have the tragedy of the commons. As Southern California grew, people drilled more and more wells, lowering the water table until sea water started to infiltrate the aquifer. There are only two possible solutions. One is for a single individual to own all the water and allocate as he sees fit. The other is government--not the federal government in this case but a regional authority. This happened almost 50 years ago.
In the Klamath River basin, we are headed that way, but everyone is still screaming that water is a sacred property right.

"You lost all your credibility when you said you wanted another government agency to keep up with water supplies, usage, etc. You see how the federal government messes up everything it touches and then want it to mess with our water? "

I'm on the local water board. We have plenty of government regulations. Some are Federal, some are State. We even have a new Water Use Efficiency program, with Mandates.

And, as a result of all this, the safety of the water system has not improved, the quantity of available water has not improved, but we are going to have to raise rates substantially to cover the extra paperwork.

You might want to look up Water Command Empire. The Departments of Health and Ecology are battling to decide who will be the master. The EPA (Federal) doesn't seem to care who wins as long as they get to justify themselves with ever more rules.

I'm not saying all the rules are bad, but diminishing returns set in about 20 years ago.

Debbie - Very interesting to see more of the details fleshed out. I supposed I shouldn't be surprised to see parallels between the dynamics behind desalinization and oil production. Both are commodities with huge impacts on all economies. Very similar disinformation (read: lies) in both theaters. The pitchmen invariably over sell the efficiency and minimize the costs. On my side of the fence there are those offering almost magical potential to satisfy our appetite for oil through various enhanced oil recovery methods. Similar to those in the Water World who understate costs such as your Tampa Bay example. The same question has to be asked: if there is such a magic bullet to enhance oil (water) production why hasn't it been done already? An equally simple answer in my world: EOR efforts have been taken in every U.S. oil field where there was potential to do so. And have been underway for over 50 years in a great many fields. I'm sure the same in your world: where the economics were right folks made water. If there was a way to make $650 ac-ft water in FL someone would be doing so and they would be bragging about it to the rest of the world IMHO.

Exactly. And if they were able to produce water at such a low price, they wouldn't need an army of consultants and lobbyists.

Based on the proposed cuts to projects around the Great Lakes (90% of the fresh water in the US, 20% of the world's) in the 2012 federal budget, I would say the chances of creating a water administration are somewhat unlikely, in advance of the taps running dry.

Not to mention the other EPA cuts.

There will likely never be an agency to collect data on water. The real point I was attempting to make is how little we know about our water supplies and that reality is reflected in the decisions we are making. It is astounding that we have an EIA considering the fight that the oil companies certainly put up to stop it. But that was the power of a good energy crisis.

Thank you Debbie for this incredibly insightful, informative piece, among the most straightforward and readable I've seen on the Oil Drum in a while. One of the world's greatest challenges of the next 50 years will be managing the competing demands of supplying water to growing urban centers while at the same time providing additional water to agriculture production to meet the increasing requirements for feeding that same growing urban population.

Matt Simmons was I believe first and foremost a passionate advocate for data transparency regarding global oil production. You make a solid case for getting better water data.

Anyway, my takeaways are

-energy and water supplies are closely intertwined
-getting good national data about water and costs is critical
-as with energy, conservation is often the lowest hanging fruit and needs to be the first place to look to mitigate the impact of increasingly scarce resources

We aren't dependent on imported water in the US. That, and you can't make an absolute killing on it, thus, no dedicated agency. It's of uniform form unlike energy, and comparatively humdrum; how do you get startup for a cutting edge water VC? I'm not even sure what that would be, kits for rainwater collection? But that isn't even on the table given EPA etc restrictions on it for health etc reasons.

There are sources of basic data out there, too, like the USGS or What would your institution do? It could shake down local depts for info on drawdowns etc; with those in hand who makes use of these, in what fashion? No doubt academics have done the groundwork on this multiple times already; certainly we're not hard up for surveys of problems facing H2O supply in the media.

Far as I know the energy industry highly values the information provided by the EIA, and view the paperwork required of them as just part of doing business. The EIA isn't howling for the FF industry to be dismantled either, or forecasting coming energy droughts, as their eternally sunny energy forecasts show. Was it Aleklett that castigated Guy Caruso as one of the most evil people on Earth?

One thing that would be helpful is a one-stop shop that lists all water agencies (public and private) along with how much water they are selling/producing and water rates they charge. There is a huge push by the private water industry to privatize water along with the myth that the private sector can do it cheaper. But surveys done in my area show that these private agencies charge much more than the public sector. That's not to say there isn't waste in government (or in my refrigerator), just that it would give the public and their representatives a way of comparing themselves to their neighbors. Of course there is lots of data available if someone wants to devote their entire life to finding it but that's not useful. As much as we may bash the EIA for their peak oil views, they deserve a lot of credit for the incredible amount of useful and accessible information they provide us. What would we have to talk about here at TOD if not for their efforts. Gotta run but I'm sure others can think of ways where transparent and accessible water data could be useful.

I would think that the larger companies, such as American Water, United Water, etc., would have pretty good industry intelligence.

They continue to buy up local water utilities and the number of such should be dropping from the 53,000 fairly rapidly. Given the dire financial condition of many municipalities and other public bodies, their water assets are one of their few good ways of raising funds.

The public sector cannot technically "make money" on its services. Fortunately, California does allow local agencies to raise rates to cover infrastructure improvements, and there is supposedly transparency in their budgets. Private water providers have no requirement to disclose information and they are less likely to perform necessary maintenance because they are focused on the bottom line. That said, here in California there are shenanigans that go on among the public sector where some municipalities do hide general fund costs within water and sewer budgets.

From press releases and new stories it does appear that municipal authorities do get use of the proceeds when they sell a water works to a corporation.

On the other hand, I'm sure that the politicians are reluctant to sell, since they lose a source of billable hours for their lawyer cronies and a source of fat contracts for their contributors. On the other hand, once sold, the water company can be assessed and property taxes collected. This, in effect allows the municipality to raise taxes on the population indirectly through the water company.

Sales seem to occur when municipal authorities are faced with a major upgrade due to poor quality water or decrepit infrastructure. Rather than face shutdown or major expenditures, they sell out.


On the other hand, once sold, the water company can be assessed and property taxes collected.

Selling a water utility for property taxes? Not in California. Property taxes generate squat for local government--almost all of it goes to Sacramento.

One thing that would be helpful is a one-stop shop that lists all water agencies (public and private) along with how much water they are selling/producing and water rates they charge.

Sounds like a job for the Internet. You could have people post info on their own, ala GasBuddy. Or start up a Wiki. Raising awareness would be the challenge, most people are pretty blase about water.

Could higher education do the deed? I just don't see taking it to the Fed being feasible, or really necessary, either. You collect the data and you're done, for a handful of years anyway; rates aren't that volatile.

While Googling about I found a study from Food & Water Watch, they seem to have a lot of copy. May be of interest.

I work closely with Food and Water Watch and they have done a good job on raising awareness. There is a huge amount of information out there but it needs to be aggregated to be useful. It is a bit like dispersed solar energy--may power a calculator but not going to move us forward.

In NJ, the investor owned water companies are regulated by the Division of Water of the Board of Public Utilities. Water Tarrifs are available on their web site.

However, as noted on their page, "This does not include municipal systems and municipal utilities authorities, which, combined, cover a larger portion of the State and which the Board does not regulate."

While a sewerage, not a water, authority, for a fun read go to Third ex-Passaic Sewerage Authority manager pleads not guilty on misconduct charges

Thanks for the links. The California Public Utilities Commission may post tariffs somewhere on their website but I've not been able to find it. Unfortunately, as you point out, the vast majority of water providers are not subject to CPUC oversight.

As much as we may bash the EIA for their peak oil views, they deserve a lot of credit for the incredible amount of useful and accessible information they provide us.

That provision may be ending under "the most transparent administration ever".  The EIA's historical data section is now being re-directed to a set of extremely dumbed-down pages which only allow access to data back to 2005, and are stripped down to minimal amounts of information.

Here is the old-style Annual Energy Review page on petroleum.
Here is the new page on petroleum, which has no links to more detailed info or anything before 2005.

If you click the "Historical energy data" link on the first page you wind up trapped in the second, dumbed-down site; there are no links going the other way.

Your tax dollars at work.

You didn't lose my credibility. But then I don't have a biased anti government rant even though I know government is wasteful. I do see many things the government does that they do just fine.

I appreciate your research and systems concept. I see far, far too many articles that are superficial and single minded. The problems we face are interconnected and, I suspect, far to complex for a single mind to comprehend. In a very poorly managed "democracy", we don't stand a chance. As each single minded solution appears, from an individual(s) with a profit margin agenda, we are going to run down far too many blind alleys. For me, the problem is a population/consumption rate that is far out pacing our present planning capability. By the time we get done blundering through planning, satisfying every agenda, the problem has grown beyond us. And it's in everything from water to energy to metals, to roads, to, to, to. I've said this many times, it took me 15 minutes with a hand held calculator to know ethanol was a waste of time. I'm no genius by any means. But it takes stepping outside our rigid, self centered thought processes.

But before any process can begin, we have to admit the problem exists and right now that isn't possible in this country. Each of us has an anger to vent, an agenda to fill, a job to protect and the list is endless. I read it everyday. As we've always done, we'll sacrifice the politically powerless first. As the problems move higher on the class chain, there will come a point when enough mass exists to attempt to cope. I figure it will be too late. In the meantime, we'll rant, blame, claim we can solve every problem, run down those senseless alleys and, frankly, talk, talk, talk.

Thanks Zeke, thoughtful comments. Your population/consumption comment was foremost in my mind as events unfolded in Egypt this past week. I couldn't help but think that while many see democracy as the way forward, it is not going to solve these fundamental problems.

Not all states in the US will allow rainwater collecting. I live in Colorado, and while a law was passed a couple years back that on first glance might legalize rainwater harvesting, it has so many restrictions that the number of people who cold get a permit wouldn't even fill up a grocery store. There are 6 requirements, but the 3 that matter the most are: it is zoned residential (farms need not apply), you have an existing well permit and you may not be connected to a municipal water utility.

Fixing the water problems in the US will require some federal laws to eliminate the legal dinosaurs in various state legal frameworks (and in the case of CO, require rewriting the CO constitution), but based on how crooked the billionaires trying to subvert the CA water laws, I don't give much hope for anything less than a full new Enron screwing the public and state out of everything they have.


My brother lives in Colorado and luckily has a well permit and a very large cistern and wind and solar (and multiple other toys). You are so right about the crazy water laws, not just in Colorado but throughout the country. It will probably take a significant water crisis to undo the nonsense. In the meantime, I've got to believe that lots of folks are ignoring Colorado's restrictions.

It isn’t surprising that an industry that canʼt even quantify water in a consistent unit of measure (acre-feet, gallons, cubic meters, units, cubic foot), would apply different criteria to different water options. The result is a misleading comparison between options.

That is because of the half-baked nature of US measurement units.

If you use international (SI) units, the obvious one to use is the cubic metre (international spelling, US spelling is cubic meter). Conveniently, one cubic metre of water weighs 1 tonne (international spelling, US spelling is metric ton). To convert to units more commonly used by the average person, 1 cubic metre contains 1000 litres (international spelling, US spelling is liters), and 1 litre of water weighs 1 kilogram.

1 acre-foot of water is about 1233.5 cubic metres. It is the amount of water needed to cover 1 acre of land to a depth of 1 foot. If I was growing rice in California, I might find it a useful unit, but otherwise not. I could launch into a rant about the practicality of growing rice in the American desert, but I should probably stop here. Talking about US units makes me mad enough.

Curiously the word nuclear does not appear in either the essay, or in the comments so far, although the idea of nuclear desalinization has been around for 50 years. Waste heat from nuclear power plants can be used to heat sea water for desalinization. The heat basically cost nothing lowering desalinization costs significantly. The sale of fresh water can become a second revenue source for nuclear power plant owners.

I suppose they can sell all of that salt as well :-/

Ghung, Actually in the case of massive nuclear desalinization, the sale of recovered mineral resources could become a further revenue stream.

Sounds great Charles. Since you've been a member of this site longer than I have, I think you'll agree that there is no point in me explaining the fundamentals of catabolic collapse, overshoot, and the decline of industrial civilization.

It's conservation, dug ponds, cisterns and rainwater collection for me. After running a nuclear powered desalinization plant for the Navy for a number of years, I decided that it makes more sense to work within the systems we have than to continuously build new, more complex ones. I suppose it's a Jevons thing.

Maybe Charles really means that since Nuclear usually NEEDS a great supply of fresh water, that it will graciously offer to produce it, too. Sounds like a Train laying its own tracks.. what could possibly go wrong with that?

I just finished a book about the building of the first transcontinental railroad-they trains did pretty much lay their own tracks by transporting almost all the men, machinery, and materials, as needed, to the "end of track" as the job progressed.

Nuclear needs water yes- but in plants where I worked, such as North Anna, they simply warm it up a little as it passes thru the plant for the most part.This is not necessarily good for a down stream ecology, but the Lake Anna "cooling lagoon " is a famous hot spot for fishing for largemouth and stripers.

Since we are not likely to build nukes where we can make use of the waste heat directly, as in district heating schemes during winter, the idea of using it for desalination seems to be worth investuigation.

Thanks, Mac;

You might be right that it's worth checking into, though personally I have to put that investigation into a subset of how much additional Nuclear is worth looking into itself.. the train analogy simply to point to the potential for rapidly diminishing returns (especially when one of the products is also a key input)

You probably notice that I'm hard-pressed to offer much that's hopeful about nuclear, and nowadays, hearing about some Reactors that are trying to get variances to raise their output temp allowances, and others (France?) having to shut down when there are water level alerts during Summer Heatwaves.. It just seems that the feedback loops have increasingly disastrous problems to them, and the industry response sounds like McDonough's theme for the industrial revolution. "If Brute Force didn't work, you need to use more of it."

Small Scale Solar DESAL is more my speed.. but I was always sorta slow..


I'm pretty strongly pro-nuclear; I feel that it's generally the cleanest and most economical option we have for replacement of fossil-fueled power plants. But even I have some reservations about using it for large-scale desalination.

It's not that it's dangerous or technically infeasible. If you really need a desalination plant, then one that piggybacks on a nuclear power plant is much better than the fossil-fueled alternative. But it's hardly "free". Just because it's utilizing waste heat doesn't mean there's no cost. The cost can be pretty steep.

If the desalination plant is thermal, then its condensers will still need to discharge to the environment essentially all of the heat from the nuclear plant that was taken in to drive the desalination. Only now it has to be discharged at a substantially lower temperature. You've replaced the task of discharging the nuclear plant's waste heat to the environment with the comparable task of discharging it into the desalination plant, but you've also added the tougher task of discharging that same amount of heat from the desalination plant into the environment at a lower temperature. That's an issue that plagues a lot of schemes for utilizing "free" waste heat.

Debbie's absolutely right that one always needs to take a systems view, and look at the spectrum of costs and alternatives over the whole system. Rainwater capture, recycling, and more efficient use will almost always be more cost-effective than boosting the supply via desalination. When those options are inadequate -- and there will certainly be cases where they are -- that's when it's time to turn to desalination.


I had written many pages on the subsidies of water and energy to agribusiness in California but deleted it from the final draft. It truly is a scam of mega proportions but decided the issue was better left for another day.

RockyMtnGuy - I empathise. When I started in this business I casually hoped that SI unit uptake would have been a gradual defacto progression. Sadly not yet - 25 years on. In the UK we have moved to a lot of SI units (litres, kilos), but kids are still regularly and needlessly confused by old units being bandied about. We buy fuel for cars in litres, but cars are marketed on their 'MPG' ratings, instead of 'litres per 100km'!

We still sentimentally keep the old fluid measurment for beer (and milk) of '1 pint', but even there, there is confusion. Our pint is 20 fluid ounces, compared to your 16oz pint, and if you start splitting hairs, even our ounces differ from yours...1 fl oz(UK) = 0.960759 fl oz(US).

And not forgetting that our gallon is 4.546 litres whereas yours is only a tiddly 3.785

And in Canada, the gallon is still a legal unit of measure, but it is the 4.546 litre Imperial gallon rather than the 3.876 litre US gallon.

That was one reason for switching to the metric system. The Canadian gallon was not the same size as the US gallon, nor was the Canadian quart the same size as the US quart. OTOH, the litre is the same everywhere (although the Americans spell it liter.)

With humor: You _know_ where American priorities are when the most widely adopted metric unit of measure for a person is...

...a 2 liter bottle of soda!

See? Who says we don't do metric!

Then there's all the Red-Meters!

thankfully local made draft beer still comes in pints ?- ) though not imperial pints. If memory serves the smaller US gallon and all came into being back in colonial days with the importers profiting from the difference so something like that.

Yes we all know how beautifully lock step the metric system is.

ah but the poetry of the US 'system' is so much more pleasing ?- )

and look at the fine blunder that showed with our Mars orbiter. Certainly Canada never had that problem with any of its Mars spacecraft?- )

At the very least we could have dumped the base 12 foot and all its lovely inch fractions for the engineers scale. They are used side by side constantly--never any costly errors there..yeah right.

and look at the fine blunder that showed with our Mars orbiter. Certainly Canada never had that problem with any of its Mars spacecraft?- )

Well, there was the famous Gimli Glider, an Air Canada 767 that made an unscheduled landing on a drag strip in Gimli, Manitoba.

The fuel gauges were out on the Boeing 767, so they gauged the fuel tanks on the ground with a measuring stick, and made a metric conversion error. They thought they had 22,300 kg of fuel, but they only had 22,300 pounds, so they ran out halfway to their destination.

The pilot, however, was an experienced glider pilot, and the co-pilot knew there was an old air force base at Gimli, although he didn't know it had been turned into a drag strip and there was a race going on that day.

Fortunately, nobody was killed, not even any of the race spectators, and the plane returned to service after a few repairs to its nose caused by hitting the dragstrip guard rail.

Great story, a real set up for disaster, averted by luck and skill...and then suspensions, demotions, awards and even a false alarm by the same plane. Wild

the big question, what was its quater mile time ?- )

and Gimli? Is Legolas the next air base over ?- )

Interesting that you mention the main cost of desalinating water being energy from an article I read in the New Scientist "Add salt as required: the recipe for fresh water"

That the temperatures required to drive desalination could be made pretty low, so why don't we use the waste heat from all power stations around the world for DeSalination? Waste heat isn't for the most part used for anything else in anycase so that would mean the marginal cost would be minimal. I think it would be an especially good idea to use waste heat from nuclear power stations to drive desalination, especially since they run at quite a low efficiency (30%) or so, implying that for every joule of electricity they produce, 2 Joules of waste heat would be available to drive desalination.

Well, by that argument, my preferrence, solar thermal generating stations at about 15% thermally efficient, are even less thermally efficient than nuclear so should be more promoted for this purpose.

How are you calculating that efficiency? Please walk us through the numbers.

Assessment of Parabolic Trough and Power Tower Solar Technology - Cost and Performance Forecasts - Sargent & Lundy LLC Engineering Group Chicago, Illinois Near Term (2004) pp 90

The SunLab projected near-term net annual solar-to-electric efficiency is 14.3%, an improvement of
3.7 percentage points from the SEGS VI 10.6% efficiency. The increased efficiency is mainly attributable to
improved receiver optical and thermal emittance properties. The demonstrated improvements are the following:
• Significant improvements in selective coatings have occurred since the last SEGS plant was
built. The solar absorptance of the cermet tubes used at SEGS VI was approximately 91.5%.
According to test data (SPF 2001), the Solel UVAC receiver tubes have a solar weighted
absorptance of 94.4%.
• Anti reflective coatings for glass have been improved in the last 10 years to improve durability. The new receiver tubes have anti-reflective coatings that deliver solar transmittances of 96.5%, compared with earlier coating that only allowed 92.5%.
• SEGS VI had a combination of black chrome and the original generation of Luz Cermet
receiver tubes. The average thermal emittance of these tubes is approximately 20% greater at
350°C. The UVAC receiver first installed at SEGS VI had a thermal emittance of 14% at
400°C. According to tests performed for Solel, the second-generation UVAC receiver had a
thermal emittance of about 9% at 400°C. There is a low risk of achieving the near-term net annual solar-to-electric efficiency of 14.3%, since the receiver properties that the improvement is dependent on have been demonstrated either by operating experience at the SEGS plants or from test data.


4.6.3 Mid Term (2010) pp 91

The SunLab projected mid-term net annual solar-to-electric efficiency is 17.0%, an improvement of
2.7 percentage points from the near-term projected efficiency of 14.3%. This improvement is mainly attributable
to the following:
• Second-generation advanced receiver with an optical design point efficiency of 79.1%
(compared to near-term 75%) as a result of a solar absorptance of 96% (compared to near-term
94.4%) and mirror reflectivity of 95% (compared to near-term 93.5%).
• Improved steam turbine cycle efficiency of 3 percentage points as a result of increasing the
solar field operating temperature to 500°C.
There is a high risk of achieving the mid-term net annual solar-to-electric efficiency of 17.0%

So I've taken 15% as a conservative present-day achievable efficiency between 14.3% with the 2005 technology and 17.0% with the 2010 technology. e.g. the reciever tube absorbtance numbers required are already available, the replacement of the flex connections with jionted syphons is proven, but the 500 degC thermal fluid is still not available to my knowledge.

Also noteworthy from the report.

For the more technically aggressive low-cost case, S&L found the National Laboratories’ “SunLab” methodology and analysis to be credible. The projections by SunLab, developed in conjunction with industry, are considered by S&L to represent a “best-case analysis” in which the technology is optimized and a high deployment rate is achieved. The two sets of estimates, by SunLab and S&L, provide a band within which the costs can be expected to fall. The figure and table below highlight these results, with initial electricity costs in the range of 10 to 12.6 ¢/kWh and eventually achieving costs in the range of 3.5 to 6.2 ¢/kWh. The specific values will depend on total capacity of various technologies deployed and the extent of R&D program success. In the technically aggressive cases for troughs / towers, the S&L analysis found that cost reductions were due to volume production (26%/28%), plant scale-up (20%/48%), and technological advance (54%/24%).

Given Sargent & Lundy Engineering's worst case scenario provides peak time solar electricity at $0.062/kwh by only building 2.8 GW and doing a few minor and definitely achievable R&D improvements, plus transmission, and a clear path is provided to offering 83% capacity factor using cheap sand and gravel tanks for thermal storage with 3x collector area and no additional central plant, which should make the installation no more expensive PER KWH if only the industry can get to 2.8 GW installed, I don;t see what we are waiting for.

It also appears to me that the more agressive forecasts of NREL / SunLab of $0.035 / kwh if we can get to 8.2 GW insalled quite quickly is entirely within reach.

That New Scientist article requires a subscription. The title, however, suggests that the method they're talking about is one that I've read about elsewhere.

It's a clever scheme employing selectively permeable membranes. The ionic potential needed to draw salt ions out of the desalination stream is created by the flow of ions from a super-concentrated brine solution into normal sea water. The super-concentrated brine is created by partial evaporation of sea water in the open air. Works best in hot, dry environments. The fresh water is not produced by condensation of the moisture that has evaporated into the air; it's produced by the ionic currents created by the concentration gradient between the brine and regular sea water.

The process is non-intuitive and hard to describe verbally, but I believe it does work. As a fringe benefit, the moisture that is evaporated into the air to make the brine will (eventually) condense elsewhere. Of course that's true of all water that evaporates anywhere, but it's still a useful side-effect.

If that's the Victoria Water Project, I note from their website that:

- Suez Environnement/Degrémont - a world leader in reverse osmosis desalination technology
- Thiess and Thiess Services - a leading engineering, tunnelling and civil contractor, and
- Macquarie Capital - a global investment, advisory and securities firm.

It appears to be Reverse Osmosis technology, confirmed by this page in Wikipedia at

Proposed Technology - Reverse Osmosis (in block ar top right)

It's not the Victoria Water Project that I was thinking of. The technology I was thinking of is being developed / promoted by Saltworks, a Canadian company out of Vancouver. Looks promising to me, but it's still to early to tell.

For more info on new desal technologies, check out
this article at NextBigFuture.

Agreed, and thanks for the links Roger.

Fifty years ago I saw abandoned solar desalination 'farms' in the middle of the Australian Nullabor desert - these things just don't work. Dust, broken glass, finicky, poor yields. My father who was a water engineer in Australia told me three decades ago that desalination was the wrong solution, and not just because of the technology.

In these areas, "truth" really does change. Faith based truth (like yours) is one thing, science based truth (when a fact can be proven wrong it is abandoned) is another. Did Nullabor builders know about collecting the solar energy at 385 degC (750 degF for americans)? Did they have affordable technology to use the top 15% of the collected energy to generate electricity?

As I said, truth changes.

About the time Debbie put this post up, CNN was running one of their feel-good pieces: Building Up America: Winery Thrives in Most Surprising Place, sponsored (in part) by "The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Industry".

What a tangled web we they weave.

Of course the truth is not likely to be heard by the public, given the hurricane background noise level created by various special interests.

In a place such as Atlanta, a real estate agent could care less whether a proposed water scheme will work effectively a decade from now.What she is interested in is the perception of bau rolling along happily THIS YEAR, so she can pay her own bills.

I have asked this question several times without getting an answer:

Is wind power compatible with desalinization?Meaning basically of course, can desalinization plants be turned on and off to take advantage of good wind days?

Water is very easily and cheaply stored in existing reservoirs if they are not already full.This would be a great way to load balance wind and conventional generation in such places as circumstances are favorable.

Excess RE is great for pumping water. After several days of clear, cool weather I now find myself scrambling to use all of the extra power the panels are producing. I am currently pumping water to the big tank on the ridge, which I expect to be full in a couple of hours. We won't need to pump for a couple of weeks. The solar pump will continue to pump, filling an auxilliary tank used for irrigation and our fire fighting tap. While this works well on my small scale, the massive scale of the situation in places like SoCal will require an equally massive response.

We've outgrown our Planet. Any viable response to our water and energy problems will enable continued growth. Catch 22.

can desalinization plants be turned on and off to take advantage of good wind days?

It would not be the preferred method of operation. I understand it would significantly shorten the life of the membrane.

I understand it would significantly shorten the life of the membrane.

I was going to ask a similar question. If power is the main cost, can they be turned down to a minimum operating level, except when power is cheap? If membranes would be damaged by on/off (perhaps by drying out), perhaps less drastic modulation (maybe 1/4 production to full) would make more sense? Or is it the pressure/flow changes? Water at least can be stored, so grid wise, you'd like your plants to be a swing electricty consumer.

I found someone in the business to answer your question and here is what he said:

Fixed operational expenses will substantially impact whether the systems should be “ramped down” to save energy costs. In addition, membrane systems require minimum pressure to cause the reverse osmosis process to occur. Systems can be temporarily shut down but there is a risk of “bio-fouling” that can damage the very expensive membranes. Also, if the systems are not being run at full production, additional systems will be required to produce the water necessary to fulfill the orders of our customers.

I also told that mold can develop in the membranes--which is what happened at the Yuma desalter.

It comes down to the capital cost of the equipment relative to the energy cost of using it. Pumping water into storage is an ideal use of intermittent energy, in part because storage tanks are cheap, but also because pumps are cheap. You don't need a lot of capital tied up in pumps and tanks.

For desalination, OTOH, you do have a lot of capital invested in the equipment. If you're only using it 25% of the time, the cost of capital is going to be a 4x larger contributer to the cost of the desalinated water. And that's best case, assuming that intermittent operation has no side effects beyond reduced throughput.

If you borrow money at 5%, assume a 25 year plant life, and produce 17.5 million gallons per day, the capital costs alone for Tampa Bay would be $725 per acre foot. If the plant only produces 9 million gallons per day, the capital costs are $1410/acre foot.

The cost of desalting seawater is 3-4 times that of normal water supplies.

Clearly the cheapest route is to reduce water consumption and using rainwater and recycling gray water.

The biggest waster of water is the unnatural landscaping fetish favored in the West.

According to a 1999 study, 58% of domestic water use is outdoors for gardening, swimming pools etc. and 42% is used indoors.[50] The arid West has some of the highest per capita residential water use because of landscape irrigation.

Per capita domestic water deliveries varied from 51 gallon per day in Maine to 189 gallon per day in Nevada.[1]

Per capita residential water use in the United States is more than four times as high as in England(150 l/c/d)[51] and five times as high as in Germany(126 l/c/d).[52][53]

Only a very small share of public water supply is used for drinking. According to one 2002 survey of 1,000 households, an estimated 56% of Americans drank water straight from the tap and an additional 37% drank tap water after filtering it.

I somewhat maliciously mention this because the former Mayor(who is a nice person) has made a water a particular interest
but what in the way of zoning of xeriscaping or enforcing mandatory greywater recycling was done on her watch? Hmmm?!

For local politicians landscape ordinances are even more dangerous than the Third Rail(SS).

Imagine outlawing golf courses!

Not forgetting the water that we merrily send down the toilet.

I doubt if people would be so cavalier with their water use if they had to source/store/process it themselves.

but what in the way of zoning of xeriscaping or enforcing mandatory greywater recycling was done on her watch?

Yes, that is the downside of a democracy--majority still rules. While I was frequently on the short end of votes that encouraged conservation, I was able to get a majority of the council to support two new positions--an energy project manager and a water conservation specialist. The mindset is changing in our community, the speed may not be to my liking, but we do what we can.

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government--Winston Churchill

...except all the others that have been tried.

The biggest waster of water is the unnatural landscaping fetish favored in the West

I tend to agree with you on that point
I prefer native gardens that dont require any additional watering (other than rainfall)
If the plants cant survive drought in Australia, then I dont grow them
Just my personal choice for my own watering-free native plant garden

Actually there is plenty of wasted water in the West available for landscaping. Washing machines, dishwater, showers, often called "gray water", is just thrown away. The detergents are actually good fertilizers, so if the water is used on plants, and not just dumped on the ground to soak into the groundwater, it is a benefit.

Of course the most egregious waste is the billions we spend on purifying water only to defecate in it. I have been using a composting toilet for years. Works great. Not a great solution for urban areas, but composting is very satisfactory for suburban and rural areas.

I think the comment referred to wasting fresh water

Yep - I recycle the rinse water from the washing machine, using a wheelie bin and a small pump
You can keep your composting toilet :)

In Ashby (2009), Materials and the Environment: Eco-Informed Material
Choice (recommended book contains energy/water/environmental data for
all the important materials) the embodied energy and water usage of
titanium alloys production is documented. These have an embodied
energy of 600 - 740 Megajoules per kilogram and water usage of 470 to
1410 liter per kilogram to produce.

Taking your example of 6 million pounds of titanium (and assuming it
is alloy, I guess they use both pure titanium and titanium alloy for
desalination plants) gives 2.72 million kilogram of titanium required
to obtain it at minimum 1.63 petajoules and 1279 million liters of
water using the figures from Ashby. As I understand it this is about a
plant that would produce approximately 150 billion liters of water per
year so in terms of water it isn't that much (relatively speaking).
However in terms of energy that's a substantial amount as 1633
terajoules or 1.63 petajoules translates into approximately 286.000
barrels of oil equivalent.

Thank you Rembrandt. Desalination is ridiculous. Tell me why, again, we need so much water?

I read recently that a key driver of molybdenum demand is desalination. Can you tell us anything about molybdenum production?

It's probably a matter of wastewater treatment. A lot of mining processes use acid solutions to dissolve metal oxides / sulfides from the minerals in which they're carried. Then the acid solutions are neutralized with a base solution to precipitate the dissolved metal compounds. The result of neutralizing an acid with a base is a salt solution. The problem is then disposal of the salt solution. The cheapest and generally preferred method is pumping into a deep disposal well. But the local geology may not lend itself to that solution. Or the volume is simply too large. Desalination of the waste stream is a clean alternative, but costly.

A newer approach is to electrochemically reconstitute the salty waste stream into separate acid and base streams, which can then be reused. It's a closed cycle, very clean, but (I think) more costly even than desalination.

I don't know much about Molybdenum except that it is a relatively scarce material in terms of large deposits that exist in the earth's crust. Often mined together with copper. I think the reserve production value is a couple of decades, and the resource/production value is about twice that value probably. (I.e. we can mine most of the resources already). It's also very difficult to substitute.

One thing about molybdenum is that it can come from places like these. Pebble contains an estimated 80 billion pounds of copper, over 100 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum.

The mine site is in the background with Frying Pan Lake and Sharp Mountain. Wet looking place? Well it is an intergral part of a watershed critical to the spawning of the world's last great salmon run, the one that comes to the rivers from Bristol Bay.

No shortage of tough decisions.

Thanks for the article Debbie, a fine reading piece. Do you write for a living?

Titanium is falling out a favor for desalination.

Duplex stainless steels are much cheaper. 2205 and 2304 are widely used in desalination, and 2003 (which is relatively new) is becoming more popular too. For even more concentrated uses, you can use 2507.

For tubes there is also one called Seacure which is specifically designed for seawater and brine service.

They are not using copper much anymore either, you may have noticed.

why is there not a U.S. Water Information Administration modeled after the U. S. Energy Information Administration? Established in 1977 as a response to the 1973 oil disruptions, the EIA “collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.” With a budget of $111 million per year, the agency produces data and analysis free of influence from the Executive Branch. The water sector screams for such a resource.

If you can control mission critical resources then you can control a population. Until they revolt.

As with oil, on which we have become nearly 100% dependent on BY DESIGN, we are 100% dependent on water for survival thanks to biology. We are also 100% dependent on breathable air.

Like OIL, Water is a tradeable commodity, a RESOURCE.
Is air a "resource"? ~:)

And the EIA is completely ineffectual, arguably dangerously inaccurate, so poor example for water data quality. We would need better oversight and I don't think that is possible - to many conflicting interests in the public commons, mostly related to money and POWER. A tragedy.

Also, would the "water sector" include people who drink water?

Great article, thanks.

I've heard presentations that made desalinization of waste water look pretty good. Are there any rlevant examples of desal for brackish water, or wastewater from municipal treatment plants? The much lower salt content would require much lower pressures, thus lower energy and material requirements.

With regard to government concern about reusing water as grey water or reused water is the gunk we add to it. I believe that water softeners are outlawed in some areas because of this (couldn't reference it,though), and suspect that some southwestern cities are shooting themselves in the foot with salt water chlorination pools.

On a side note...I recently replumbed our main bath/shower so that all of that water goes to a mix of fruit and nut trees. It's nice to get a warm fuzzy feeling while breaking the law.

There is an excellent example of waste water re-use here in Orange County. It is a joint venture between the OC Sanitation District and OC Water District. While the costs of production have certainly been higher than they had originally projected, they are much lower than desalinating water with higher total dissolved solids. Their costs would be even lower if the water were put directly into our delivery system. But to sell the project to a populace that can't get over the yuck factor, the water is pumped up to percolating basins where it recharges the OC aquifer. The district has been re-using tertiary treated water that is discharged from inland cities into the Santa Ana River for many decades. The bulk of our water, 60-75% comes from this aquifer.

An interesting side note, Metropolitan Water District subsidizes the re-use of water but at half the rate at which they will subsidize ocean desalinated water. So we are basically rewarding the least efficient/highest cost technology.

One more issue with waste water re-use that most people wouldn't think about, without storage, you are limited to how much water is being used at the lowest level of the day--when people are sleeping and not flushing.

Using brackish water definitely reduces energy consumption, but I don't have a link. Municipal waste water I suspect would be much more problematic, as the pre-processing to remove solids, emulsions, and fats would be onerous.

Debbie, I like your research style and persistence - I also don't assume anything in print is automatically correct.

Cost may be one aspect to examine, though that cost may change as energy source costs change, so I recommend looking at the energy required to desalinate seawater.

According to Feasibility of Biomass Energy Production to Support Local Water Self-Sufficiency, California Dept of Food and Agriculture, 2008, for an ac-ft of potable water:

- Brackish water = 1.3 - 3.3 MWh electricity
- Sea water = 4.3 - 4.9 MWh electricity

Depending on the quality of the source water, treatment plant technology and capacity, about 1.3 to 3.3 MWh of electricity would be required to produce one ac-ft of potable water at a cost of $130 to $1,250 from brackish water sources.

For estuarine and sea water, approximately 3.3 to 4.9 MWh of electricity would be required to produce an ac-ft of
potable water at a cost of $700 to $1,200 per ac-ft based on the price of electricity of 5 - 11 cents per kWh.

The above cites the publication Water Desalination – Findings and Recommendations, California Department of Water
Resources, October 2003, which you participated in, though when I looked at the findings and recommendations, I did not see these numbers...

Energy requirements are all over the place and site specific. According to one consultant, the six Australian projects range from 4035 kwh/af to 6170 kwh/af. The Huntington Beach Environmental Impact Report for the Poseidon project stated that project would require 5400 kwh/af. Temperature and salinity vary from location to location. Tampa Bay's salinity is lower and water temperature higher which would mean their water costs should be significantly lower.

In theory, Will is right: it does require much less energy to desalinate slightly brackish water than it does to desalinate sea water. The minimum energy needed to pump salty water through a perfect membrane against osmotic pressure is directly proportional to the salt concentration.

In practice, there's a difference, but it isn't all that large. The thermodynamic minimum to desalinate sea water would be (IIRC) around 715 kWh/af? That limit could be approached by pumping through the RO membranes at a very slow rate. But the very low throughput would make that uneconomic. So much higher pumping rates are used. At the higher pumping rates, most of the pressure is not osmotic, but simply the mechanical pressure needed to push water through the pores of the membrane. So the lower osmotic pressure from less salty input doesn't matter that much.

As far as using RO desalination to treat municipal wastewater, the big problem there is that it requires a very high level of upstream pre-treatment. Otherwise, the membranes become fouled with particles that made it through the earlier filtering steps. (Well, not "otherwise"; they get become fouled anyway. Fouling and replacement of RO membranes dominates the operating costs of RO plants. But with good pre-treatment it doesn't happen as quickly).

I wasn't recalling correctly. The thermodynamic minimum energy figure for desalination of sea water is .75 kWh / 1000 liters (i.e., tonne), not 715 kWh / acre-foot. (Should have known that a reference for thermodynamic energy would never be given in terms of acre-feet.)

The desalination plant in Tampa is interesting. A couple of decades ago, an engineer that I knew in Atlanta was discussing the companies plans for business expansion in Florida. It was his view that the projected growth would not happen because Florida would run out of fresh water first.

As for Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern California, wouldn't it be more economical to prohibit the use of water on ornamental plants, lawns, fountains, and outdoor pools than to employ desalination?

I remember New Mexico. It seemed that Albuquerque had a sort of water police, giving out fines. Fortunately I lived outside of town with well water. At that time my kids would do stuff, like run water outside to make a play lake etc., and I could imagine going to jail if I had lived in town. Perhaps Heisenberg will pipe in, as he actually lives under that system. In any case that was probably because the city was already against the wall. When the town was small the aquifer underneath (thousands of meters of granite crystals from the nearby mountains) was deemed inexhaustable, but the population grew exponentially, and they have to keep procuring more and more expensive water from farther and father away. And I had the impression the pressure to use less was strong and unrelenting.

Instead of schemes like desalinization, let's dump birth control substances into the water supply. Oh, and how much water are we devoting to ethanol production? Every technological "improvement" is eventually met with an increase in the population demanding yet a further technological "improvement". Conservation, while desirable, will eventually be met by a population that makes even that inadequate. We are headed towards a Dune like existence. Bring on the stillsuits.

I'm somewhat surprised to see no mention of Cadillac Desert, or of the proposal to recycle sewage into tap water (e.g., ).

The last I paid much attention (15 years ago), one of California's water problems was that most of the state's water was dedicated to agriculture at relatively low prices, but with the restriction that farmers could not resell it. The incentives were busted in a way that discouraged conservation -- for farmers, water was use-it-or-lose-it. Has this been fixed yet? It's hard to imagine this would be more expensive than desalination plants.

In Pinellas County, for decades, treated sewage water has been made available via a separate distribution system for irrigation purposes. On the other hand, it is considered completely OK for homeowners to install shallow-water irrigation wells, and rejigger drainage, with no thought to what effect this has on people (like my parents) who still get drinking water from a deep-water well.

And the developers in Florida, are as clueless and greedy as you have ever heard. I grew up down there and saw it first hand.

Excellent article Debbie.....thank you for posting....ran the numbers on the proposal here in Marin
basically we're looking at high end of the Australia range you posted.
And that is without the coming energy crunch. Wet Winter has put it on the "back burner" here (reservoirs were full before the New Year :<).....IMHO, aftermath of rolling over the "peak credit" cliff will probably finish it off. Keep up the good work :<)

Desalination cannot be “greened” by utilizing solar or wind energy for its energy requirements. Not only is the scale of such a proposal ginormous, it ignores the fact that all renewable energy resources are backstopped by fossil fuels.

Flawed logic on several levels.

1) How is it that the Quatari's when building the Qualum aluminum refinery were able to exploit the waste heat from the included 1,250 MW generating station to thermally desalinate seawater? I think you meant to say "reverse osmosis desalination cannot be greened", since that flawed process requires its input energy entirely in the form of electricity, commonly derived from fossil fuels. Thermal desalination, not so much.

2) At 240,000 gallons per acre foot, even desalination at $2,000 per acre foot provides pure drinkable water at $0.008 per gallon. How much did you pay for that case of pint bottles of water you purchased recently at the supermarket? 200 times as much? At least?

3) De-salinated water from seawater is an obvious co-product of any solar thermal generating station. The generating station needs cooling water for its condensers, but cares nothing if that is fresh water or seawater, so obviously should have its condensers optimized to produce thermally de-salinated fresh water as a co-product. Then use Electrodialysis desalination to efficiently further extract fresh water from the saltwater, leaving just a salt slurry which is then dried on open-air beds so no concentrate is returned to damage the ecosystem.

4) Energy is simply too cheap at this time. We can know that because no aluminum smelter yet, even in the Gulf region, is using a de-salination process to recover the huge heat-of-fusion of the aluminum product in a de-salination process, even though molten aluminum metal releases 398 kJ/kg at 660 degC when solidifying. Those who are calling the end of the world are a bit early, to say the least.

I know I'll get trashed by the religious doomers, but just ignore that.

Electrodialysis desalination

Desertec Australia - Concentrating Solar Power and Desalination: An Ideal Fit -

How much would wind turbine based desalination cost. Lots of wind on the coast and no problem with intermittency, as the water can be stored :-)

Problem with wind turbine de-salination is that the only energy available is electricity. Electricity is generally too valuable an energy source to waste on "primary" de-salination which can be done cheaper with low-quality waste heat. If it's all you've got, and the water is really REALLY needed, then maybe, but an electric-driven de-salination plant (Reverse Osmosis or Dialisys) is an expensive capital investment to have sitting around doing nothing during the 70% time that the wind generators aren't running.

Siemens Desertec

Hmmm. Actually, wind turbine desalination could make sense. Reverse osmosis is pressure driven. Pumping water into high pressure storage when power is available, and then releasing it steadily to the RO system should work fine. It overcomes the duty cycle problem for the most expensive part of the system. If the turbine is dedicated to that use, you save the cost of the electrical generator and power conditioning subsystems.

As to desalination using waste heat being inherently cheaper, see the caveats I gave in response to Charles Barton's upthread post on nuclear energy.

Everyone's all concerned about the capital cost of reverse osmosis systems which make them impractical for intermittent use (as e.g. dump loads for large scale wind power).  What about freeze desalination systems?

Ocean water freezes at about -1.8°C.  If we make the following assumptions:

  1. The cooling system must chill to -15°C.
  2. The brine is used to chill the incoming saltwater.
  3. 100% excess saltwater is used.
  4. Incoming saltwater is at 20°C.
  5. The heat of fusion of ice is used as a heat sink for the chiller system which condenses saturated refrigerant at +10°C.
  6. Remaining heat is rejected at a condenser temperature of 30°C.
  7. The chiller has a Carnot efficiency of 50% (perhaps too high, but let's see).

For each gram of water frozen, 2 grams of water are brought in at 20°C.  One gram is chilled to +6.4°C by heat exchange with cold brine, and 1 gram is chilled to +10°C by heat exchange with fresh icewater.  The two streams are mixed and go to the freezing section at +8.2°C.  Heat transfer to icewater is 5 cal/gm of input water, or 10 cal/gm of water frozen.

In the freezer section the water is chilled to -1.8°C and half of it freezes.  The heat transfer is 10 cal/gm in the cooling, plus 80 cal/gm in the part frozen (40 cal/gm of input water), plus 1.8 cal/gm of brine output at -3.6°C.  Ignoring heat capacity of the ice, this totals 50.9 gal/gm of water input or 101.8 cal/gm of ice.

The refrigerator has a Tlo of 258K.  It pumps part of its heat to icewater at a condenser temperature Thi of 283K; this requires [(283-258)/258]/0.5=0.194 calorie of work per calorie taken up in the freezer.  10 calories of ice's heat of fusion has been used to chill water, leaving 70 calories to cool refrigerant.  This 70 calories can take 58.6 calories of the heat taken up in the freezer, leaving 43.2 calories for other sinks.  The 58.6 calories of cooling require 11.3 calories of work.

The ambient condenser operates at Thi of 30°C, or 303K.  A second chiller unit using this operates at an efficiency of [(303-258)/258]/0.5=0.349 calories of work per calorie of cooling.  The remaining 43.2 calories of cooling consume 15.1 calories of work, yielding a total of 26.4 calories of work per gram of ice produced.

A calorie is 4.184 J, so the energy input is 110 J/gram of water produced or about 31 watt-hours per liter (31 kWh/m³).  That's a long way from the thermodynamic minimum you claimed (got a reference for that?).  On the other hand, refrigeration systems can be left dry when not in use, and won't foul from molds.

Figures here are SWAGs, corrections welcomed.


The desal cheerleaders are attempting to sell this technology by claiming they will produce the water with "green energy" (whatever that is). Sure it can be done, but on a very small scale to a very wealthy populace, while being backstopped with fossil fuels. But that's not the world that I think we are entering. There may be a place for boutique water but that place is getting smaller and smaller and I rather see our remaining resources put toward other options.

Just check what desal technology they are promoting. If it's Reverse Osmosis (electricity input intensive), then I'll agree, it's probably a scam. That in NO way discredits solar thermal generation with attendant thermal desalination, and perhaps some ElectroDialysis treatment of the effluent IF returning the concentrate to the sea would harm the ecology.

Thanks for the link on electrodialysis desalination. The new process that I mentioned elsewhere (in connection with "just add salt") is essentially the same as electrodialysis. But instead of an external source of voltage, the dialysis current is generated by reverse dialysis from the super-concentrated brine.

Great article. Thank you for sharing it.

Since Australia has had a lot of rain the past two years the desal plants now seem like white elephants. However that could all change back in another couple of years. A couple of issues keep recurring
1) is the need for desal a sign the city has grown too big?
2) carbon neutrality.

Retail costs of water produced by reverse osmosis of seawater seem to be in the range $2-$5 per kilolitre, far too expensive for growing crops apart from greywater. A weird thing is that people cling to these sometimes parched cities when other parts of Australia have abundant water year round. For example where I live has 1,500 mm or 60 inch rainfall (more this year) and I pay nothing for either household water from rainwater tanks or garden water from an earth dam. For whatever reason people don't want to leave the big cities so let them pay for desal.

To my knowledge there is no large thermal desalination such as flash distillation in Australia. The big plants use reverse osmosis at say 3 kwh of electricity per cubic metre of water. Nuclear proponents advocate coupling electricity and desalination but Australia's political elites keep helping out the coal industry which provides 80% of our electricity. Thus each c.m. of desal water is associated with about 3 kg of CO2 which is unsustainable long run. Several desals have said they have new wind farms that offset the CO2 but I think those claims are way off. For example Sydney's Kurnell desal is claimed to be carbon neutral due to a 137 MW wind farm about 300km away. When former PM Rudd opened the wind farm on a calm day it was producing about 2 MW. Even on year round basis I doubt the wind farms actually displace enough CO2. One way to be sure would be to connect them directly and bypass the grid.

Long term I think the answers to Australia's water woes must include population relocation and the use of nuclear power. At present the political elites think it just involves tinkering with BAU, that is intermittent desalination powered by coal fired electricity.

1 megalitre = 0.81 acre feet = 1,000 kilolitres = 1,000 cubic metres

must incldude population relocation

Building a Desal plant is a 100% sure sign that the region is overpopulated and past it's limits of sustaining the current level of human population.

It's just another complex solution with diminishing returns trying to solve another complex problem. The real solution is degrowth. The forces for BAU will never acknowledge this.

Evaluating Technology

I remember a conversation at the recent ASPO convention when I was dismissive of PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) and you defended keeping "all options open".

I support investing in mature technologies#, with well over a century of operating experience, as the cornerstone of our response to a post-Peak Oil world. Hundreds of successful examples worldwide with excellent data for the entire life cycle, and a wide variety of operational options.

Yet you wanted to keep a technology without a successful prototype in real world operation in the mix of policy options to consider, on par with successful, mature technologies.

I appreciate your skepticism about desalinization technology. Please apply the same skepticism to transportation technologies.

There is a time to be judgmental and non-inclusive, and that time is now for transportation technologies as we enter the post-Peak Oil world.

Best Hopes,


# Electrified railroads, electrified urban rail, walking and bicycles with a secondary role for electric trolley buses

PS: Why not just move water demand (i.e. people) to where the water is as part of the solution ?

I am open to desalination, where it makes sense. The Imperial Valley is a perfect example of a project that may make sense. The county sits on a gigantic aquifer that has collected 75 years of brackish water from irrigation--2.5 million acre feet per year. The total dissolved solids (TDS) are around 2000 as opposed to ocean water at 35,000. Energy demand significantly less than imported water, brine significantly reduced, no marine impacts. I am certainly open to the technology but not where it defies common sense.

The two largest costs to "making water from RO units is the back flush and the power to run the pump that drives the water through the membrane. Almost half of the water made is used to back flush the membranes. These systems cycle-two running one back flushing. The back flush is to remove the crud that the membranes trap. Large portion of the water is wasted

The problem with these desal plans is how they distribute the water to customers. Instead of putting it in a pipeline it should be put in plastic bottles. Desal production costs are only pennies per gallon while at the supermarket water is sold for dollars per gallon depending on the size of the bottle. These profits could lower prices for other water users. Those Californians would make drinking desal water a fashion statement.

Here in Iowa we have the opposite problem with water in that there is too much of it falling out of the sky. We have had 5 straight years of above average precipitation and some are thinking we may be experiencing a more permanent change in our climate.

The photos of sun cracked lake bed bottoms reminds me of the quote about all species using all available resources until they are gone.

I was actually close to the Tampa Desal project and wanted to provide some additional insight and clarifications. All of the details below are public information captured on Tampa Bay Water's recorded monthly board meetings.

The project did initially reach construction completion near it's $110 million dollar price tag (2003 dollars). At that time the plant could operate to the 25 mgd design flow rate, however Tampa Bay Water had contractually required a 14-day performance test before accepting the plant. The plant could not initially pass the test because the heart of the system, the RO membranes, were fouling too quickly. An investigation would find the seawater pre-treatment filter system was not removing enough impurities natural to Tampa Bay... specifically from the Asian Green Mussles that thrive on the intake water of Big Bend power station (where Tampa Bay Desal's intake pipes are also located). Covanta had designed a proprietary dual sand filter system to pre-condition the seawater... the long story short is it did not work.

Covanta Tampa Bay had been legally 'ring-fenced' from the bankruptcy of the parent company Covanta Energy in 2002 during the construction project, but the new legal entity only had one asset which was the $110m contract to build the plant. When the plant was completed and failed the original performace test, there were no additional monies to make modifications to the dual sand system nor was there a parent company left to right the problem. Convanta Tampa Bay had to also file bankruptcy which is what gave Tampa Bay Water control of the plant with a higher then expected operational cost.

There were some unusual circumstances that drove up the cost other than companies failing to deliver a product at a contract set price;

1) The refusal of the local member governments to allow Tampa Bay Water to install offshore intake/discharge pipes (per the original concept) is what brought the Asian Green Mussles around the Big Bend power station into the equation.
2) Florida had several Hurricanes crisscross the state in 2004-2005. Water was not an issue during those years and contributes to lower lifetime plant processing average since 2003.
3) Tampa Bay Water had an operation protocal to not use Desal as a resource of first resort so the lifetime average is condition dependant on outside factors.

In my view the best gauge will be how cheaply Tampa Bay Water will build and operate the future Gulf Coast Desalation Plant

Thanks for the info.

An investigation would find the seawater pre-treatment filter system was not removing enough impurities natural to Tampa Bay... specifically from the Asian Green Mussles ...

This seems counterintuitive since mussles are filter feeders and clean the water they live in. Perhaps the system is ingesting their detritus or the mussels themselves, poor design and easily solvable.

In my view the best gauge will be how cheaply Tampa Bay Water will build and operate the future Gulf Coast Desalation Plant

So they haven't learned their lesson? "Once burned, twice shy."

It was reported last week that Tampa has turned on their desal units again (after being put on standby for nearly a year) which is not surprising given the threats from Southwest Florida Muni Water District and one of their members of Congress. Tampa won't be able to keep that up without a significant water rate increase.

One would think that with all the rain that falls in Florida, it would occur to them to collect and store rainwater as an alternative to desalination.

In fact, Florida is the state with the greatest amount of convective energy potential (aka CAPE). One could harnessing that potential by building Atmospheric Vortex Engines and use the cheap electrical energy to desalinate. One could even skip the electric power generation by linking the turbo-expander shaft directly to the pressurizing pumps required for desalination.

As an alternative to RO, one could even use vapor recompression to desalinate.

However, why not just use seawater instead of freshwater to grow horticulture. See

In Coastal California (e.g., San Pedro point), one could also collect freshwater from the summer fog banks that tend to blanket the coast until noon. Google fogwater or similar.


Who were the consultants that made the presentation to OC on 9/11/09 ?
How did they arrive at their figures for the Australian desalination plants ?

Sidenote: I would take what TheAustralian reports with a grain of salt (pun intended)

Drop me an email and I will send you the presentation.

Thankyou :)
Email sent

It isn’t surprising that an industry that canʼt even quantify water in a consistent unit of measure (acre-feet, gallons, cubic meters, units, cubic foot), would apply different criteria to different water options.

Amen, Ha-le-lu-jah! As a non-american I found this text very hard to read. I know the mile is 1609 meters long. Then I know no other imperial units. As for feets, we had 22 different sizes of them in Europe before we metrified the continent. What is an acre-foot? Is it an acre of land under a foot of water? In that case; I have no clue the size of an acre. A football field? A tennis court? Or the area under my kitchen table? Pounds I just assumed half a kilogram but it is incurate. And wat is mg/d? Milligram per day? But 12.5 mg water is rougly what you find in one breath of air. I guess you meant Mega-Gallons, but if you scale up, the prefix is upper case. IE "m" is milli and "M" is Mega.

Seriously America, the rest of the world is metric. Even the 3:rd world has made the move. I can't read this stuff. This is medevial.

Now I just need to catch the Mayflower next time it sails over to the New World to deliver this perchemnt after my scribe has written down my dication, because I ussume you also don't have the Internet.

Regards, lord Philip Du'Bof

Not to mention how stupid it is to have to calculate the length of a dipole antenna for the 40-meter Ham Radio band, in feet!

This is medieval.

Yes, but it keeps the rabble in a state of confusion making it easier to sell the swill.

oh actually it allows one to live on their own couple acres(640 of the to a square mile) and walk a dozen feet to the garden without feeling quite so dehumanized by their connection to the machine--there is value in that.

And transport their produce to the market in ox carts, allowing 50% to spoil in the process, like India.

I'm pretty sure India uses hectares ?- )

I think you kind of missed that one, though I might have been a bit opaque--Debbie was talking about keeping us Yank rabble in a state of confusion making it easier to sell the swill with metric/standard confusion. I was talking about actually walking a dozen feet to my own garden--though it's under a couple feet of snow at the moment--and using the same metric/standard disconnect to give me distance from the 'machine'...that very same 'machine' that is selling the swill?- )

I guess my use of the third person 'their' there was ill advised.

Lighten up a little Len, stretch your six foot frame out a little and go out to the back forty and scare up a grouse or two (no gun necessary) is short?- )

Google calculator can help you with units conversions. Just type "1 acre in square chains" into the search bar and you will find that it replys that "1 acre = 10 square chains". See, United States units are sometimes decimal after all. And I guess we have to call them "United States units", since we are the only nation that is so backward as to still use them.

"1 acre foot in liters" results in "1 acre foot = 1 233 481.84 liters".

Now if we could just standardize when to use "," "." and " " to separate digits in numbers.

I've never even heard about "chains" before. And I was surpriced when I heard about "stones" the first time a few years ago. What else do you have?

As a side note; the swedish mile was some 10600 meters, so when we metrified we simply trunkated the mile to 10000 meters, beeing 10 Km sharp. So we still use "mil" in Sweden on everyday basis. Very handy for discussing distances between cities etc. But it is all through metric.

Of course not all units are in use. But we have "hands" for measuring horses, "furlongs" for race tracks, "jiggers" for whiskey, "barrels" for beer (but different from barrels for oil), and "Troy ounces" for weighing gold (not to be confused with Avoirdupois ounces or Apothecary ounces).

Luckily, all electrical measurements are in standard international units.

The way I do this is by taking the standard survey chain which is 66 feet, and calling it 20 metres (65.6 feet).

An acre is 10 square chains, so a metric acre is 10*20*20 = 4000 square metres.

Then I take the standard foot (of which there are two sizes in the US) and call it 30 cm.

A metric foot is 30 cm, so a metric acre-foot is 1200 m3.

Life could be so simple if the US would adopt my metric mile, metric acre, metric foot, metric pound and metric pint. They won't of course, but that's because they are as stubborn as the British, who also don't listen to anybody else.

I have another idea on the concept.

Scrap all units exept the yard, that is rougly 0.9 meter. Then use milli-yards and Kilo-yards etc. Area and volume are stated in yards as well. Also scrap all weight units except the pound that is almost half a Kilo-gram, and apply the same procedure. Still not fully metric, but a step in the right direction.

In the next generation, redefine the yard to excactl yone meter and the pound to excactly half a Kg.

The genertion that follows scrap that to and goes to metrics completely.

What is an acre-foot? Is it an acre of land under a foot of water?

That is right. An acre-foot of water is enough water to cover an acre of land to a depth of 1 foot.

An acre of land was originally the land which could be plowed by one man behind an ox in one day.

Before the enactment of the metric system, many countries in Europe used their own official acres. These were differently sized in different countries, for instance, the historical French acre was 4,221 square meters, whereas in Germany as many variants of "acre" existed as there were German states.

The modern acre is defined as 1 survey chain wide by 10 survey chains long. Unfortunately, there are two slightly different sizes of survey chain used in the US.

1 United States survey acre is equal to 4046.87261 square metres

1 International acre is equal to 4046.8564224 square metres

1 acre-foot of water (using the international acre and the international foot) is 1233.48184 cubic metres of water.

For most practical purposes, call an acre-foot 1200 m3 or 1200 t of water.

Agreed, metric is the only system to use in the modern world. However I'm old enough to remember a few things about the old "English" system, eg. an acre is a square 200 feet on each side, so an acre-foot would be 40,000 cu feet. At "about" 30 cu ft per cu meter, that's "about" 1,333 cu meters, close enough for water surveyors.

Actually, an acre is 1 chain wide by 1 furlong long, a furlong is 10 chains, and a chain is 66 feet, so an acre is 66 feet x 660 feet or 43,560 square feet. An acre-foot is one acre of water 1 foot deep, so it is 43,560 cubic feet.

1 foot is exactly 0.3048 metres so 43,560 cubic feet is approximately 1233.5 cubic metres - which means an acre-foot is much closer to 1200 cubic metres than 1333 cubic metres.

I know a great deal about the "English" system of measurement, which is why I don't like it.

As a US resident, it is frustrating being in the country that is left behind. I remember when I was in grade school being told how our country was going to convert to metric within a few short years. Now 30+ years later we still haven't gotten there yet. I see I can now buy dental floss in 50 meter (54.7 yards) containers - so we're smart enough to use it, just not smart enough to adopt it.

Even Sheldon in the TV show 'Big Bang Theory' ridicules adherence to old measurement systems. Everything is so much easier in metric. Some of the units are archaic...long tons, short tons, acre-feet, imperial gallons, US gallons, troy ounces, furlongs, bushels, British thermal units, horsepower, quarts and so on. In metric the major units are powers of ten. For example most of the world's irrigation industry uses megalitres (a million litres) denoted ML in documents and spoken of as a 'meg'.

Strictly speaking the metric time unit should be the second not an hour. Speed signs that read 100 kph (roughly 60 mph) should read 28 mps.

There is a certain logic to English units in that they are typically related by multiples of small numbers, and very often they are base 2. For example, fluid ounces, cups, pints, quarts, gallon, bushels. This is very practical, since it is easy to divide something into two equal parts or to double an amount. The dozen and score are probably responsible for some of the multipliers containing 3 (a foot is a dozen inches) and 5 (20 shillings to the pound).

Going metric doesn't entirely solve the problem of doing conversions, since there are practical units that are not even multiples of others. For example, 1 electron volt = 1.60217646 × 10-19 joules and 1 calorie = 4.18400 joules. Futher, you need to keep track of whether you are working in MKS or CGS units, since 1 joule = 10 000 000 ergs.

The electron volt is based on somephysicalpropety of the electron of wich i remember very little from that part of physics lessons since we had that class about the time my brother died and I had more important worries. The Calorie isn't metric at all, and of no concern.

The difference you are talking about is the fact that thepre-metric system is fractional (halfs, quaters etc) whilethe metric systemis decimal. So yes often there are a multiple of 2 of something in the smaller unit, but we want multiples of 10 im the metric.

"The Calorie isn't metric at all"

yes it is.
1 calorie is one gram of water heated 1 degree C.
1 Calorie is one kg of water heater 1 degree C.

The problem was that the amount of heat to do this did not come out even when calculated from electricity or mechanical energy.

By the way, metric has its own problems with the units of pressure. Pascals are dopey. Bar is livable, but not really metric. The pressure gauges that came on a piece of Japanese equipment were in kg/cm^2. Mass per square cm?

Wouldn't pressure be Newtons per square cm?

A newton is a kg·m/s². A dyne is a g·cm/s².

It would be best to not mix the kilogram, meter, second units with gram, centimeter, second units. The International System of Units is based on the kilogram, meter, second, and the GCS units are probably being deprecated.

A pascal is the SI unit of pressure, equal to N/m² (newton / meter²) or more fundamentally, m^-2·kg·s^-2.

"The Calorie isn't metric at all"

yes it is.
1 calorie is one gram of water heated 1 degree C.

I maintain my statement. The Joule is the only unit for energy. The Calorie may have been defined the way you say, but that is just another way of describing the heat capacity of water.

An American Football field is slightly under 1 1/3 acres. (I would have use proper football, the one where no hands are allowed, but the filed size is variable)


Reading this text makes me wonder if it would not be a better idea to build a water pipe from Canada to the US, sending down the 5 million barrels a day of freshwater they use to produce the worlds dirtiest and most expensive liquid fuel, that goes on export to the US anyway. Realy, wouldn't that use of the water and money give more bang for the bucks?

The water used in oil sands production either comes from the Athabaska river, which naturally flows through open deposits of the oil sands, or from brine deposits underground. You REALLY wouldn't want any of that. Seriously.

Dear Old Farmer Mac
I will have to politely disagree with your view a few days ago that gas for an old tractor and truck is more usefull than an army of slaves. This is not aparent to everyone,especially to the army of slaves. Your friendly neighborhood feudal lord might even look upon your prosperous farm dependent on timid helpless machinery and might take a shining to it. This feudal lord might tell his slaves/serfs/volunteers to look at that evil industrial farmer(it always helps to demonise whoever you want to steal from )who only sells food for money and leaves you jobless, hungry and homeless. While I the lovable feudal lord give you food, clothing and shelter out of the love of my heart. Lets go over and confiscate his land and I will give a parcel to all the men who fight with me and swaer loyalty to me. (leaveng part of the industrial farmers land for myself.)


Your friendly neighborhood feudal lord.

Ps. consider this your eviction notice. My mob will be there in about 3 hours.

I will have to politely disagree with your view a few days ago that gas for an old tractor and truck is more useful than an army of slaves.

Actually, long before Old Farmer Mac was born, Adam Smith examined this subject in his book The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. He established conclusively that, even at that time, capitalism had rendered slavery uneconomic.

Unfortunately, the American Revolution (which he referred to as "the present difficulties" because it was 1776, after all) intervened, and the Southern slave owners didn't get the message, despite the best efforts of the Northern industrialists to inform them of the new economic realities.

If they had got the message, they would have realized that they were wasting their time with the whole slavery thing, they would have freed all their slaves, bought a bunch of machinery, and the US could have skipped the entire Civil War and all the other difficulties that ensued.

But, unfortunately, those who don't read economics are doomed to have a difficult time of things.

Even better the South could have been paid for their slave by the central government which is after all a lot cheaper then war. No, they preferred to fight to defend their way of life until it was all gone with the wind.

Would you also prefer to pay criminals not to commit embezzlements and frauds? What assurance would the central government have that once they'd "been paid for their slave(s)" they wouldn't have simply then gone out and rounded up a bunch more? The south started the war by attacking Fort Sumpter over a dispute which entirely resolved to pro v.s. anti slavery. Total US population in 1840 census 17,069,453 of which slaves counted 3,954,000 (and interestingly, no separate count of Native Americans or Asians?) The questions were simply "How many free white americans How many slaves?"

It is distressing to see southern americans "re-enacting" the civil war this weekend, and glorifying the confederate flag, as though the southern position stood for something commendable, rather than simply slavery, a brain-dead-ugly proposition even in 1850's.

(Note: This wiki site carries somewhat conflicting census results).

Total US population in 1840 census 17,069,453 of which slaves counted 3,954,000 (and interestingly, no separate count of Native Americans or Asians?)

That is because the Three-Fifths Compromise made the enumeration of slaves politically advantageous.

Representation in Congress counted slaves as 3/5 of a free person. In 1833 that gave slave holding states 98 instead of 73 representatives. In an odd way slaves were more 'represented' than Indians and foreign born Asians who were not counted at all--though that 'representation' was only used to make sure slavery continued.

In Sweden we outlawed slavery somewhere in 1300-something. It was not because we are so much better people, it is just that we realized it was better to set the slaves free and collect the taxes once a year, than having the management burden of telling them every thing they need to do and punish them when they don't.

Slavery is just an evolutionary step between "do it your self" and "pay someone better equipped to do it for you".

Slavery was effectively outlawed in Britain by a court decision in 1772. A very strong case is made that the primary motive for the Southern states to assert independence from the Crown was to avoid the jurisdiction of this very verdict.'s_Case

A practice doesn't have to be the most efficient possible way of doing things, to be perpetuated. Slavery lasted only 90 years more in the US. Small mercies.

Well, having worked in urban stormwater for close to twenty years, looking at ways to clean it up at a watershed scale, I'm coming to two conclusions. First, there isn't enough land, money, or interest in retrofitting stormwater treatment in places that were developed before it was required in the 1980s onward. Second, the only feasible solution is to treat it by not letting it run off in the first place.

Rainwater capture, infiltration, transpiration, etc. It's not terribly complex, but it will require an outreach program on the order of MADD, second-hand smoking, or an incredibly organized political campaign.

The benefits are huge, including reducing flashy peak flows tearing up streams, cutting pollution loads to receiving waters, and recharging groundwater. Basically, treating stormwater as a resource instead of a problem.

I live in Melbourne so I have a very close interest in the Wonthaggi desalination plant. In keeping with the article above I'll quote some costs in terms of acre-feet. Google tells me there are 1.26x10^6 litres per acre-foot.

Firstly the initial output of the plant is expected to be 150 Billion Litres/year. That's 1.2x10^5 acre-feet per year.

The average electricity consumption (including pumping) is 100 MW. Lets say it operates for 8000 out of the 8700 hours per year. That's 8x10^5 MW-Hr's.

This is about 1.6% of Victoria's annual electricity production.

Now I have no idea what special rate the plant gets from it's supply contract but let's suppose it's sufficient to cover the $80/MWHr which the typical price a wind farm operators gets in the State of Victoria. (A very large wind farm (around 450 MW peak) was recently approved whose annual production is about what is required for the plant.)

So that is: 80*8x10^5 = $64 million per year in energy costs. So in terms of annual production the energy costs are:

64e6/1.2e5 = $533 per acre-foot.

The biggest component of course is the interest charges. At 7% interest and amortising $5 Billion over 28 years, this comes to:

$407 million/year

This adds 407e6/1.2e5 = $3391 per acre-foot

Adding the two we get around $4000 per acre-foot.

To this we need add maintenance charges and the cost of replacing and/or upgrading the membranes. I don't have numbers for these. I would be most appreciative if someone could provide them.

The reason Victoria embarked on this project is because we were convinced our climate had become permanently drier through climate change. (This translates to approximately 50% reduction in annual inflows to our dams)

In 2010-2011 we've had a very strong La Nina event which has finally given us a break from drought. Our storages are now up over 50% full (from a low of 23%). Now I'm not sure that we'll need the desal plant but it is nice to have as insurance policy in case this year was a one-in-10 year event and the new norm is the 50% reduction in annual inflows observed in the climate change website below. Personally I'm glad we spent the money as a risk mitigation exercise at least.

Finally my annual water consumption is about 72000 litres per year (200 litres per day). So that is 6% of an acre-foot, which if sourced from desal will cost $240 to produce. My current (pre-desal) annual water bill is about $1000 per year. I guess most of what I pay for is the service of delivering me wonderfully clean water when I want it.

All which seems to say that desal is a reasonable option for an affluent city on the coast.


(Climate Change)

(Energy requirements of Wonthaggi Plant)

(Electricity production in Victoria)

All which seems to say that desal is a reasonable option for an affluent city on the coast.

The operative word being "affluent." Your water rates are projected to rise 20% per year for five years to pay for this project. Who knows how high other essential commodities will rise. I can't help but wonder how affluent any of us will be in 10 or 20 years time. I suspect most cities will be walking away from their desal plants and the debt.

No doubt, it may make sense for Australia at this moment in history but look absurd as we descend the energy curve. It does not make sense in my region where lawns are lush, water is cheap, and conservation anathema to policy makers.

Well firstly my analysis is that water rates will rise by at most 20% due to the desal. On the other hand other costs associated with water delivery may rise.

There is absolutely no shortage of either coal or natural gas in Australia. Victoria has brown coal reserves that will last over 500 years. The issue is whether we have enough water. We've had *severe* water restrictions in Melbourne leading to substantial conservation efforts. Water use per per person has declined by 40% since 1997 and our (very large) storages were still falling year over year.

Now it may be that the past 14 years were a blip in the climate cycle and we've now returned to our historical climate averages. Hurray if so! We now have lots of water and the conservation culture to make better use of it.

If not we've got the desal plant. There was some noisy opposition to it but overall people in Melbourne are happy its there. Both major parties support it. There was a *far* bigger outcry over another water supply measure that diverted a small part of river in a different catchment to supply Melbourne. It was much more politically acceptable to create water with the desal plant than to take someone else's water.

BTW one of the reasons it is so expensive is that it is being built with a very low environmental impact. The power lines that supply are all underground for example.

Finally there is no debt crises in Australia. The GFC was a very small blip in our economic growth.

As I said a 20% increase in water bills is a reasonable cost for the risk mitigation.

There was some noisy opposition to it but overall people in Melbourne are happy its there.

Well, that's not what's being reported in your paper: Public fumes at water bills

Victoria has brown coal reserves that will last over 500 years.

Good luck with that.

Well, that's not what's being reported in your paper: Public fumes at water bills

Well of course the pollies will try to score points of each other and the Newspapers report it. The new (right wing) government had it's own proposal for a desal plant before the last election. The 450 comments are the noisy minority. Frankly an extra $100 per year on our water bills is a fantastic insurance policy. Typically the only group against the plant was The Greens. But they're only 10% - 15% of the vote although they're concentrated in the chattering classes.

Victoria has brown coal reserves that will last over 500 years. -Good luck with that.


Victoria has substantial deposits of brown coal, including the La Trobe Valley coalfield which contains some of the thickest seams in the world (up to 330 m thick).

Whether or these get developed really depends on the Climate Change debate. There is no doubt the coal is there and very easily mined.

Except for a few extreme desert situations, like Saudi Arabia, desalinization is stupid. Listen to the engineering -- it is waaaay too difficult and complex for what it produces. The average person uses about 70 gallons of "drinking water" a day. Of course they don't drink it, it's mostly used to flush the toilet, water the lawn (does that ever happen in Huntington Beach hmmm?) and so forth. The solution is low-flush toilets -- there are now one-pint flush toilets -- using vegetation native to the area for landscaping, etc. The real solution is just to make water more expensive. Then people will use less of it, simple as that. Yes, people will complain, but they are mostly complaining about their God-Given Entitlement to be able to hose down the driveway (it's a Los Angeles thing) with cheap government subsidized water.

Not only does LA waste water on landscaping, toilets and the like, they are now planning to THROW AWAY hundreds of millions of gallons of what is already secondary treated wastewater in a BOONDOGGLE which is euphemistically called the CLEARWATER PROGRAM (aka--Joint Outfall Project) which they *say* will only cost 2 Billion dollars.

Has anyone ever heard of a project, which will take a decade to complete, ever costing "just" 2 Bil?

Even now, they are routing 60% of tertiary treated water to the sea.

Seems that LA, which imports its water, can't seem to find a use for it. While some is used to recharge aquifers, a lot is used to irrigate golf courses, which nobody but the rich can afford to play on.

They claim that these 200 million or so gallons must be thrown away because it's "too salty" for direct reuse.

Whoever is polluting this water with salt needs to stop. In any event, these disingenuous people would rather spend money on this project rather than to figure out either how to stop the salt from coming in, or at minimum use the water that would otherwise be thrown away during the summer for feed to desalination plants, since it would be much cheaper to desalinate than using seawater. Not saying it should be RO.

This October 2010 article lists the cost of water desalination in Texas at $2,890 per acre-foot. Conventional water sources (dams, aquifer pumping) are around $2000 per acre-foot. Conservation is listed at $400 per acre-foot. But of course, conservation can deliver only a certain amount of water, something like an equivalent of a 16% increase in supply.

This 2011 report lists costs of new water supply to Dallas-Fort Worth. New reservoirs can be as low as $400-600 per acre foot, similar to the cost of conservation.

Lower Bois D'Arc reservoir, highly likely to be built, 123,000 acre-feet annual yield, $432 per acre-foot

Marvin Nichols reservoir, huge and highly controversial, probably will be built due to sheer need and environmental problems with other options. 489,840 acre-feet annual yield, $676 per acre-foot

The report also shows that tapping into existing supplies, mainly in water-rich east Texas, can be quite costly due to pipeline and transmission costs. The Red River (between Texas and Oklahoma) and its reservoirs have saline water, making it mostly useless although a recommended plan of action plan is to blend the saline water with higher-quality water.

Debbie, Tampa Bay Water made mistakes during the process... that is a 100% fact. But I do not think a repeat effort on Gulf Coast would have the same fate. Here is some more insider baseball regarding that situation.

The purpose of the Tampa Bay Water - Master Water Plan Configuration 1 program was to allow the regional aquifer wellfields to rest and recover. SWFWMD liked the Desal plant in the planning stages because it would provide a drought resistant ‘base load’ to guarantee a minimum level of wellfield recovery. The initial Desal cost was less than 20% of the total money spent on all of the Configuration 1 projects (over $600m in 2003 dollars). This is when the politics started... the other configuration 1 projects (new surface water sources, the new regional reservoir, wellfield diversification, new inter-utility interties, new treatment facilities, etc) in their collective achieved the SWFWMD wellfield recover goals without water inputs from Desal. This was surprise to everyone, including the program systems engineer. The area aquifers also rebounded faster than projected, the population growth of Tampa slowed to a halt, and the Master Water Plan Configuration II projects were all postponed by at least 5 years instead of starting in 2004 as originally planned. The current fight in the news is politics, SWFWMD wants to make the aquifers rebound even faster which differs from the original recovery rate goals when Desal was first conceived. Their argument is the original agreement required Desal to operate at 25mgd regardless of the rate of aquifer recovery. On the other hand Tampa Bay Water is clearly trying to mitigate the Desal construction and operational cost overruns by not operating the plant at full production since the program goals have been met through other means. The Tampa area taxpayers (myself included) are already paying for the bond cost to build configuration 1... should we take an additional price hike because SWFWMD wants to further exceed the original program goals?

Adam Smith was the father of Modern Capitalism. He wrote The Wealth of Nations at the first birth pangs of the Industrial Revolution.

Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto as a responce to the exesses of Capitalism. Communism depends on the concept that people can share.

Industrial Capitalism depends on an ever increasing amount of raw materials and that the two parties will fulfill at least the written part of there contracts.

It is becoming apparent that Industrial Capitalism at least in its present form is not working. We are running out of nonrenewable resources and the Banking Capitalism we have now seems to be involved in massive widespread fraud.

If the collapse of Communism showed that we

Adam Smith was the father of Modern Capitalism. He wrote The Wealth of Nations at the first birth pangs of the Industrial Revolution.

Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto as a responce to the exesses of Capitalism. Communism depends on the concept that people can share.

Industrial Capitalism depends on an ever increasing amount of raw materials and that the two parties will fulfill at least the written part of there contracts.

It is becoming apparent that Industrial Capitalism at least in its present form is not working. We are running out of nonrenewable resources and the Banking Capitalism we have now seems to be involved in massive widespread fraud.

If the collapse of Communism showed that we can´t trust people to share. The continuing collapse of Capitalism and the widespread fraud show that we can´t trust people to keep there word.

What type of economic system can we have if we can´t trust people to share and we can´t trust them to be truthfull?

It seems to me that with the continuing collapse of civilization as we know it as evidenced by the current worlkd wide depresion. The resource wars, Global Warming, rising food prices, overthrow of governments throughout the Middle East ext.
That citizens will clamor for protection befor economic liberty.

The best armed and most organised elements of society the ones most able to step in and restore order and protection when the governments colapse is the criminal elements of society. The Mob and Drug Cartels. These elements operate in a feudal system.

The mob boss divides up his teritory among his leutenats for loyalty and a persentage of the take. These leutnents furhter devide up the teritory until the lowest levels go about the business protecting the citizens.

The Mob and Drug Cartels operate in an environment where people are expected to not share or be truthfull. Where the threat of violence of actual violence is commonplace.


"People who are not students of economics are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past."

I am afraid this is correct most people are not students of history or economics and I believe that we will revert to a simpler system of economics.


Let's nationalize the water resources. What would that model show? I think the wrong trend is to go with private operations, rather than standard muni run systems.

Let's tax water to the hilt, to pay for the pensioners who run all our government ssystems. May I get you a glass of water? OH, how extravagant, I'll just have a beer.