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Calif. Community's Techno-Fix to Drought: A Path Towards More Climate Problems?


Calif. Community's Techno-Fix to Drought: A Path Towards More Climate Problems?

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The Santa Barbara City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to restart a desalination plant to confront exacerbating water problems amid the state's four-year drought.

The plant, which has been in standby mode since the 1990s, would suck water from the ocean and use reverse osmosis to turn it into drinking water.


I have been at Cape Verde, a small country located in the Atlantic Ocean, roughly 200 miles from África coast, specificaly Senegal, back in the early 90s and they already used water desalinization and eolic electricity generation. Cape Verde used to be a Potugal colony and is quite poor, even then they are NOT thirsty!


Excellent, Matt, and Gibabr! Thank you both for your very direct and appropriate responses.

I am currently working with a consortium of engineers on evaluating the economics and ecologistics of desalinating ocean water in the desert southwest using solar energy for daytime operation, and perhaps a symbiotic relationship with Palo Verde nuclear for excess nighttime capacity or stored solar energy from the abundantly insolated area between Yuma and Gila Bend, to keep the process going 24-7. With proper design, it can be made cost effective, and totally solar.


This is all very interesting. I have met Maude Barlow and heard her speak. What she says is absolutely true, but not necessarily so as Matt Heins points out. I have thought a lot about desalination as a solution to our water problems. I think we could solve quite a few problems if we sucked water out of the ocean and put it through solar stills. Obviously the residue should not be put back in the ocean. The NaCl can be used in batteries developed at MIT, and the other chemicals re-used for whatever purpose they were developed in the first place.
Besides large scale desalination, it would be useful to have an affordable personal solar still so that people - as in Bangladesh - whose dry season water supply is brackish could produce salt-free drinking water. My designs so far are only partially effective. I welcome all ideas.


The issues with this desalination plant aren’t so easily dismissed as some think. They talk about solar desal but this is not a solar desalination plant.
To say that you don’t need to use fossil fuels is ridiculous since this plant runs on fossil fuel. The issue is with **this ** plant being restarted not a solar plant be started.

Secondly the ‘brine’ is quite toxic and copious. This is a lot of water and therefore a lot of toxic brine will be returned to the ocean. Where would the brine be dumped? If not in the ocean then where? In a manmade pond? Then what? Truck loads of dead ducks and other water birds like has happened elsewhere in Calif.?

People who use RO in their homes are not processing the huge amount of sea water with its heavy organic load. Home RO units are rarely used to process sea water.

A new generation solar desal plant might be more economic but where do you put the large quantities of poisonous brine needs to be dealt with. Generally coastal desal plants all reinfect the toxic brine back into the ocean. Don’t forget this is an older generation plant too.


This is nonsense. Technology transforms us, and technology transforms the world.


I understand that there are issues with this approach, but I take issue with the reaction it could produce in many people who would write of solar desal as just another boondoggle.

My issue with RO as the method is that RO is roughly 30-40% one-pass efficiency and it takes a lot of electricity to run the pumps. The problem with RO is that the other 60-70% more or less of REJECT stream is not something that can be simply discarded without effect or impact. At the very least, if you are on a well system like me, you can’t afford to throw 2-3 cups of water away to get one that’s drinkable. Ultra-filtration can make water safe and new products are coming on the market every year in this rapidly growing industry. I believe we are in VIOLENT agreement on your point that RO desalination is not a viable long-term answer. But if it gets them water to drink (I hope, and not water their lawns) right now so folks don’t die of thirst, it will allow us time to come up with better solutions. The desal process must be carried on to completion and all products put to other use, even if it means free salt for the entire world!


The earth IS abundant. It ceases to be when abused as power is concentrated in fewer and fewer incompetent hands, driven by lust for money they don’t need and power they are unwilling/unable to use wisely.
Nothing will change unless we figure out how to deal with this dangerous imbalance.


I think desal will be an utter necessity in the future but I believe that only solar powered desalination plants are viable.

As to the waste, yes that is a serious problem. Various attempts to recycle the salt are proposed even to encapsulating it in asphalt or special concrete for use in roadbeds but it leached out … a work in progress as yet. Some propose encapsulating it into bricks for buildings etc. The solution is not readily available. Meanwhile people need water and solar desal is viable. Whether RO desal is the end game or a mid step in a process only the future will tell. At this point the waste brine is a limiting factor but all problems can be solved by our ingenious species given the will to do so.