The price of pure water | University of Oxford
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The price of pure water

Pete Wilton

I can't resist highlighting this National Geographic article about desalination and the Middle East.

The Middle East, as we know, is short of fresh water but awash with salt water lakes and seas. The obvious solution is to build desalination plants to turn salt water into fresh water: this is exactly what Israel is doing with five state-of-the-art plants on the way.

Yet, the article suggests, whilst this approach may provide a short-term solution to one problem it may open up a watery Pandora's Box of others, here are a few examples:

Energy: Desalination plants use massive amounts of energy 24/7. With the region's present power infrastructure this energy will surely come from burning large amounts of fossil fuel. More carbon into the atmosphere speeds up climate change and makes drought situations worse.

Purity: The water produced may be 'too pure' with high boron levels that could be harmful to wildlife and reduced calcium and carbonate concentrations making it acidic enough to damage pipes.

Waste: Finding somewhere to dump super-salty, chemical-heavy waste water is also an issue (do we want another Dead Sea?).

Security: Desalination plants would become a major terrorist target: one expert estimates six or seven Hezbollah rockets could knock out the entire water supply system.

Could the downsides of these plants perhaps be mitigated by research into salt-tolerant cropsor more-efficient solar power? Let's hope so because, as one researcher comments: 'At the end of the day, water is life... if this is the only alternative and it can help us to avoid future conflicts, we will go for it.'