South Africa: 'Water, Water Everywhere'... but What Are the Final Costs of Ocean Desalination?


Some research suggests that impacts of desalination plants can extend for several kilometres from outfalls, while higher water temperatures and salinity could provide stepping stones for alien or non-indigenous species to spread.

Desalination plants -- those magic water factories that convert seawater into a liquid you can drink with confidence -- have mushroomed dramatically over the past two decades as clean water shortages spread across the world.

Indeed, the Ancient Mariner's lament about his raging thirst amid an abundance of undrinkable seawater could gradually become a thing of the past as improvements to desalination technology enable the large-scale removal of salts and minerals from the ocean

But, there is a hitch: How to turn this abundant resource into drinking water without harming life in the sea and adjoining coastal environment because of the growing torrent of brine water and chemical pollution from nearly 16,000 desalination plants scattered around the globe.

A study published on 14 January by United Nations' water researchers says there has been an "exponential increase" in global desalination capacity compared to 20 years ago -- and a concomitant increase in the flow of polluted, hyper-salty brine water into the ocean.

While the biggest plants are located in...

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