They used to call California ocean desalination a disaster. But water crisis brings new look
A couple of weeks ago, we told you about what was happening in California’s water crisis. The stories were grim: Three major droughts this year and four in a row in the last five years are causing mass water shortages and threatening to leave us with a water crisis in the next few years. The state’s supply of fresh water may run out entirely by 2020 and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it will probably double in size by then.
There were some hopeful signs, too: After a couple of years of big cuts to the state’s water usage, the state and the federal government are working together to come up with a plan to find new water. It’s called desalination. What is it? And how is it used?
Desalination is a relatively new process to get fresh water out of salt. People have been doing that for the last several centuries, but nobody has been making money with it. It comes from extracting more salt out of brine than seawater can take out of brine. Over time, a lot of the salt gets dissolved in water, and that’s what we want, and sometimes, we do what you do without thinking about it, which is use the brine to cook food or to make things like juice.
That process, called reverse osmosis, doesn’t work very well. The water then has to be boiled down to concentrate it.
But people have been trying to use the process to produce fresh water from salty water. The process, known as desalination, has been used in a few places for a long time, but with varying degrees of success. The most successful of those is in Iran.
Iran’s water woes
In Iran, desalination is used to produce fresh water but also to power its economy and to make a good deal of its gas. Iranian desalination, as it’s known, was born in the 1970s but really took off in the 1980s when Iran needed to produce more water for irrigation and for the expansion of its oil industry. To produce that amount of water, the country needed a lot of oil to lubricate the system.