As cities across the United States face increasing drought and water management problems, some corporations and elected officials are pushing an expensive, energy-intensive technology called ocean water desalination. This reverse osmosis program separates the salt from seawater, in order to create fresh water for people and agriculture. It might sound like a good idea, but desalination’s cons far outweigh its potential benefits.
Extensive research by Food & Water Watch has found:
Desalination technology can kill marine life
What happens to all the salt and chemicals removed from seawater during desalination? It’s dumped, in its highly concentrated form, right back into the ocean. This dangerous solution of sodium and industrials endangers fish and other sea life.
Desalination creates carbon emissions and contributes to climate change
While desalination is supposed to improve water shortages, its emissions could actually hasten the climate change that will alter precipitation patterns and further strain existing water supplies. The greenhouse gas pollution from industrial seawater desalination plants dwarfs emissions from other water supply options, such as conservation and reuse.
Desalination can fail to remove harmful chemicals from your drinking water
Desalinated water is not safer water. The portion of desalinated water that reaches consumers contains unregulated chemicals not present in normal drinking water, which endanger the public health. These contaminants include chemicals such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and toxins from marine algae.
Desalination projects invite corporate abuse of your public water systems
The push for ocean desalination is led by private corporations, which plan to sell desalted ocean water to the public at a premium. This private ownership allows the people who control our vital resources to put their bottom line before the public interest. Private companies do not conduct the same rigorous, public review of social and environmental impacts as government agencies and are not sensitive to the social and environmental injustice that the public sector must address.
Ocean water desalination harms marine ecosystems, promotes unsound coastal zone management, wastes energy, and impacts human health.
We shouldn’t use desalination as a quick fix to our water shortage problems. Conservation and recycling programs may be a much less expensive and less risky alternative to building desalination plants. Read our report, Desalination: An Ocean of Problems to learn more about this risky business and its impacts on our health and safety.