“The Carlsbad Desalination Project will provide San Diego county with a locally-controlled, drought-proof supply of high-quality water that meets or exceeds all state and federal drinking water standards.”
The quote above comes directly from carlsbaddesal.com,the website for Carlsbad’s new desalinating water plant. The process of desalination includes removing salt and unhealthy minerals from saline water. When discussing the current drought in California, there is often talk of desalination and its potential to increase our freshwater supply. Removing salt and minerals from saline water seems like an obvious solution to the drought and ongoing water scarcity concerns because it is a reliable water source.
Fourteen new desalination plants have been in the works to produce more drinkable water along the California coast. For many, this may seem like an answer to the “exceptional drought”. As consumers, it may also seem like a way to help us avoid making lifestyle changes, such as Governor Jerry Brown’s call for Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent. But while desalination may be a reliable option, the answer is much more complicated.
One of the greatest issues with desalination is the cost associated with these projects. A new plant may cost upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars to build (a billion in the case of the Carlsbad facility), plus considerable cost to run the plant.
Beyond the costs to build these facilities, operational costs are substantial and raise concerns over the energy requirements and their impacts. Energy costs make up around a third of total operating costs for a typical desalination plant. In California, there is concern about vulnerability to short-term and long-term energy price increases. During a drought, energy prices tend to increase due to the reduced ability to generate hydropower and the need to replace that hydropower with more expensive energy sources. These costs are often overlooked and not always factored into the total project cost. Long term, energy prices are not static and may increase due to the rising costs of developing renewable alternatives and building and maintaining new and existing infrastructure.
With these high capital and operational costs also comes a higher cost of its product, water. Desalinated water can cost upwards of $1,900 per acre foot, considerably more than other alternatives such as water conservation and efficiency, stormwater capture, and recycled water.
Aside from the costs, there are other potential externalities associated with desalination facilities, including environmental impacts. Seawater intake systems that draw ocean water in through screened pipes impinge marine organisms on the intakes. Smaller organisms able to pass through, such as eggs, larvae, and plankton, are entrained into the plant and killed during the desalination process. Produced water disposal can also have a substantial threat to marine life. The salt is concentrated into a brine that is usually pumped back out to sea for disposal after going through the desalination process. These point sources increase salinity levels and may affect local sea life, depending on the plant’s location and sea currents.
The idea of building seawater desalination plants during a drought is not a new one. In 1991, a desalination plant in Santa Barbara was constructed in response to the 1987-1992 drought. Once the plant was completed, abundant rainfall rendered the plant cost-inefficient, and it shut down in 1992. Currently, costs to restart the plant are being assessed as the technology and infrastructure are dated and would incur new capital investment. Likewise, six seawater desalination plants were built in Australia in response to the Millennium Drought. Today, four out of the six plants are left idle due to the availability of cheaper alternatives. These examples should serve as cautionary tales.
The good news is that we still have cost-effective options readily available. A study by the Pacific Institute and NRDC shows how California’s drought can be managed with better allocation and management of water resources. By implementing water-saving practices, water reuse, and stormwater capture, California can save 5.2 to 7.1 million acre-feet of water each year in our urban areas – equivalent to the output of 125 large desalination plants!
Sustainable water management is best served by creating a comprehensive water management strategy in California, one that captures the most cost-effective options first. California has the ability to bridge the gap between water demand and supply by taking advantage of the existing resources and practices that have yet to be fully and efficiently harnessed.
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What happens when we start saving more water during this seemingly never-ending drought? Rates for water increase. In a fixed-cost industry, the price of water increases when low supply equals high demand. “If you want to buy water on the market this year, the price is 10 times higher,” says Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.
But the districts, who are selling the water directly to these households and businesses, have no choice but to do so. The Union Tribune explains it like this, “If you sell less of something, you must cut costs, boost prices, or do both to balance the budget.” This cut hurts during a time when business and homeowners are working hard to use less H2O. Water consumers in San Diego County (and the rest of the state) have been not only meeting, but exceeding state-mandated water reductions. Some residents believe that the price increase is unfair and that officials should find a way to keep them down.
And the increase in prices won’t stop here. Next year, San Diego county officials proposed to raise prices 17%. In San Diego, the monthly price for a family of four using 50 gallons of water per person per day is $49. So this price will go up about $8 for a family in this situation, making their water bill $58 a month. To make matters worse, San Diego residents get higher bills due to the fact that California gets most of its water from pipelines and aqueducts in Northern California and the Colorado River. The longer the distance for water to travel, the more it costs due to delivery costs and vulnerability to water deliveries.
Although it’s frustrating to save water at a time like this, there’s not much we can do. To help save water, you should buy a water-saving filtration system for your home. To find out more, visit http://www.filtercon.com or call us at 800-550-1995.
Higher Water Bills Likely. San Diego Union Tribune. 27 July 2015. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/jul/27/tp-higher-water-bills-likely/
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Many cities, including San Diego, treat their water to kill off harmful bacteria and parasites. What many people don’t know is that impurities such as copper, aluminum, pesticides, and other toxins can still remain in the water even after being treated. Along with these impurities, city water usually doesn’t taste very good. The reason is because chemicals such as chlorine used during the water treatment process attempt to remedy these problems, but give the water an unpleasant taste. For this reason, many people purchase filtered water dispensers to further purify their water. Filtering dispensers help in eliminating these impurities and can also make the water taste better.
Research shows that a filtered water dispenser will save you roughly $600 a year if you were to contin-ually buy 16-ounce water bottles. Furthermore, some people like to bottle their own filtered water. By doing so, they reduce plastic waste and save money. Talk about a win-win situation!
Water dispensers come in different shapes and sizes. Some conveniently fit right into your refrigerator door, others come with a bigger container for larger quantities of water.
After reading all of this information, you might want to rush out and buy yourself a filtering water dispenser. Before you do that, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages…
- No plumbing is required
- Most are easily stored in a refrigerator and are usually portable
- With so many different types on the market, you can choose one that suits your needs and budget
- Cleanup is very simple. The only thing you should have to do is replace the dispenser’s filter
- User-friendly. Most people understand how to use dispensers without a manual or guidebook
- Although perceived as safe, try to keep them away from dust. They can easily become a breeding ground for diseases
- Cost. The water dispenser itself does not cost much, but it requires a new filter after so many uses. This extra expense adds up, especially during the summer when people are drinking more water
- Check the quality of the plastic before you make the purchase. If it is made of harmful plastics (like BPA), you could be drinking chemicals just from the dispenser itself rather than the water. Read our article on: BPA Free Water Bottles
The best way to find drinking water from a trustworthy source is to invest in a whole house water filtration system. These systems filter water throughout your entire home and eliminate 90% of harmful chemicals. They reach your faucets, your showers, and your hoses outside so that everywhere you go in your home, you’re getting clean, pure water. Without the added chemicals in your shower water, your skin and hair will start to feel more clean and healthy. The long term effects on your health alone are worth the investment in one of these systems.
For more information on a whole house water filtration system for your home, CLICK HERE.
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