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Desalination Brings Relief to California

Water scarcity affects over 700 million people around the world, according to David Talbot in the MIT Technology Review. By 2024, that number could grow to 1.8 billion—a 61% increase. Meanwhile, the western US is in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for four long, dry years. Not only are homes and businesses feeling the pinch, but the drought is shutting down farms in one of the strongest agricultural areas in the United States. What this will mean for fresh food production and prices has yet to be determined.

People are competing for access to water, according to Talbot, driving municipalities such as Carlsbad and Santa Barbara to throw their lot in with reverse osmosis desalination of seawater—the most expensive way to make fresh water.

It may make for expensive tap water, but seawater is plentiful in drought-stricken California. All that is lacking is infrastructure. Carlsbad County will have their $1 billion plant up and running by the end of 2015, producing up to 54 gallons of fresh water daily—10 percent of what the county needs. The Santa Barbara City Council decided in July 2015 to reactivate a desalination plant it built in the 1990s. Many other cities in California, Talbot writes, have decided against desalination, finding it cost prohibitive and detrimental to marine life.

Water conservation, energy conservation, and desalination are just a few of the topics that drew Priorclave North America to participate in the 2015 California Higher Education Sustainability Conference (CHESC).

[photo credit: Reverse osmosis desalination plant in Barcelona, Spain, James Grellier, CC BY-SA 3.0]