Washington, DC–Food & Water Watch today released a new report that reveals that ocean desalination, an emerging technology often promoted by private corporations as a solution to drought and water shortages, creates a myriad of environmental and social problems. Desalination: An Ocean of Problemsfinds that desalination–the process of removing salt from seawater to make it drinkable, carries a high price tag, releases unregulated chemicals into drinking water supplies, uses large amounts of energy, pollutes waterways, and threatens fisheries and marine environments, among other drawbacks.
“Private companies are marketing desalination as a long-term solution to water shortages. In reality, they are taking advantage of communities where impending water crises are leading water managers to believe they must adopt extreme measures,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director, Food & Water Watch. “Desalination is a risky water supply option that actually creates more problems than it solves.”
Desalination: An Ocean of Problems reports the following findings:
Desalination is expensive. Although the price tag varies by region and is often obscured by corporate underestimates and government subsidies, it is more often two to four times as costly as traditional options.
Desalination is bad for the environment and human health. The by-products of desalination include coagulalants, bisulfates, and chlorines. When concentrated waste is dumped into the ocean as it is with desalination, it is harmful to marine life and environments. Furthermore, power plants’ intake mechanisms, which are often teamed with desalination plants, kill at least 3.4 billion fish and other marine organisms annually. In addition to upsetting marine environments, desalination causes fishermen to lose at least 165 million pounds of fish a year today and 717.1 million pounds of potential future catch.
Desalted water also puts drinking water supplies at risk because seawater contains chemicals such as boron, that freshwater does not. Boron, only 50 to 70 percent of which is removed through the desalination process, has been found to cause reproductive problems and developmental problems in animals and irritation of the human digestive track. Current drinking water regulations do not protect the public from boron.
Desalination contributes to global warming and requires large amounts of energy. Removing salt from large volumes of water takes nine times as much energy as surface water treatment and 14 times as much energy as groundwater protection. Emissions created by desalination plants contribute to climate change, a leading factor of the droughts and water shortages the process is intended to mitigate.
Desalination turns water into a commodity. Private corporations are investing in desalination because it is a leading growth area in the global water market. As water becomes a scarcer commodity, global corporations are setting themselves up to sell water for a profit. Furthermore, private control of water makes in much harder to ensure public safety.
“Policy makers can better provide the public with safe, affordable water by implementing conservation measures to protect water supplies. It is up to the government to ensure the integrity of this vital natural resource. It should not be left to private corporations more concerned with revenue than service delivery,” said Hauter.
Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch: (202) 683-2500
Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.