Is desalination really California’s the first line of defense against water scarcity???

Desalination exists within California as a small production source, producing between .002 to 0.600million gallons per day. These plants are used for industrial processes. In 2002, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 2717 (Directing the department of water resources to establish a desalination task force to make recommendations related to potential opportunities for the use of seawater and brackish water desalination. The desalination task force established that desalination could only contribute to less than 10% of California’s water supply needs. Nine years after Assembly Bill 2717 passed, private corporations and municipal water agencies have proposed new desalination plants. There currently are over twenty large-scale desalination plants proposed throughout California (ranging in capacity from .40 MGD to 80MGD). The technology that is projected within desalination plants is Reverse Osmosis; a little insight on the inefficiency of this technology is displayed in the cost breakdown below: 
Pros: 
  • Provides reliable drought-resistant water supply to California
  • Improve water quality  compared to existing sources
  • Lessen the demand on northern California’s water supply by developing a local alternative for Southern California. 
Cons:
  • Can add harmful chemicals and metals into the water it produces 
  • Intake waters could contain: Pharmaceuticals, algal toxins, and endocrine disruptors depending on water supply source
  • Desalination is extremely energy intensive, requiring 30% more energy than existing inter-basing supply system and the energy expense is 50% of the plants operating cost
  • Desalination also would indirectly cause more GHG emissions (greater dependence on fossil fuels) 
Desalination Project:
Desalination plants within California were indirectly withdrawn when coastal power plants once- through cooling methods ( seawater intakes and use the seawater for cooling from the power plant). In 2010, the California State Water Resource Control Board passed a policy to phase out the use of once-through cooling because of the impact on marine life. There were 20 desalination proposed to use open seawater intakes to withdraw water and ten of these will likely co-locate with existing power plants in order to share the intake pipes. Only 13 of those 20 projects are moving forward. 
Alternatives to Current and desalination water supply systems:
  1. Urban water conservation 
  2. Stormwater Capture/ reuse
  3. Water Recycling
  4. Groundwater Desalination requires less energy than seawater desalination because the water is less saline. 
  5. Greywater 

How much water does it take to make consumer goods?

Joseph Bergen and Nicki Huang, two graduate school students from Harvard Graduate School of Design, created an online interactive map that shows people in different locations how much water consumer goods in their region use. With the help of Pacific Institute these two students went on to develop a map that allows you to click on different countries and different consumer products to compare and contrast the embodied water content, as well as the water usage and accessibility. Moving your mouse around on the map  you can compare one country profile with another country profile for products or overall water supply. Also, you can print labels for each product embodied water count and used it as a reminder of your water usage and accessibility. This project has developed into a new trend of developing a water footprint and some of the reasoning behind why are listed below
Mind-Blowing Stats on Embedded water:

  1. One cup of coffee has 1120 (x 50 gallons) of water per cup. = 56,000 gal
  2. A pair of leather shoes has 16,600 (x 50 gal’s) of water per pair= 830,000 gal
  3. A Microchip has 16,000 (x 50 gallon’s) of water per chip = 800,000 gal

This website is worth while checking out to give you a reality check on embodied water you unknowingly consume

Another interesting project within the same realm
Chris Hendrickson and Michael Blackhurst; two engineers from Carnegie Mellon University estimated water use among +400 industry sectors. Calculated all water inputs used for these interrelated industries to shed light on the total amount of water that goes into the manufacturing of consumer products. Their work was published in the Feb. 23, 2010 edition of the journal Environmental Science & TechnologyThe results were overwhelming because more water use occurs indirectly as a result of processing (packaging, shipping, etc). 
.In Terms of Gallons of Water needed to produce $1 worth of consumer goods:

  • Cotton 1,300
  • Fruit 480
  •  Flour milling 470
  • Electricity 450
  • Vegetables and melons 280
  •  Sugar 270
  • Chicken 250
  • Dog and cat food 200
  • Cattle 190
  • Tortillas 140
  • Milk 140
  • Paint 140
This study presents growing awareness of indirect water consumption in consumer products and that being said the United Nations estimates that one-quarter of the world’s population, mostly among the poorest countries, won’t have sanitary drinking water by 2025.