Q: What is the purpose of this coalition?
A. The U.S. Desalination Coalition is a group of municipal water agencies whose mission is to encourage the development of seawater and brackish groundwater desalination projects, and to raise the visibility of desalination at the federal level as a viable and important option in meeting the future demand for clean and reliable water.
Q: Why now? Given the government's other pressing priorities, is this really the optimal time to get Congress' attention?
A: Congress is always busy! Clearly, there have been developments -
drought, policy decisions, and competition of a scarce resource -- that have prompted renewed interest in water supplies, at home and abroad.
But these developments have only heightened the concern and reality that professional water authorities have been coping with for some time; that is, serious strains and stresses on our nation's water supply that can be addressed cost-effectively by desalination.
Q: Why is federal involvement necessary - or even appropriate?
A: Water is vital to everyone. Desalination, on the face of it, provides America with a new water supply. Secondly, desalination will relieve the demand on existing water supplies, many of which are over subscribed and environmentally sensitive.
Desalination, by providing new water, will enhance the regional water supply security. Finally, we have reached the point at which desalination has become commercially cost-effective. The federal government now has the opportunity to fulfill desalination's potential by incentivizing the development of desalination plants.
Q: Isn't desalination too expensive for practical use?
A: Not anymore. Technological advancements, primarily in the area of membrane technology, have reduced dramatically the presumptive costs of desalination, to the point at which it rapidly is becoming price-competitive with the costs of importation and water storage.
In 1992, the cost to desalinate an acre-foot* of water was about $2,000. Today, that cost is approaching less than $800 per acre-foot. Meanwhile, the cost of importing water in Southern California, for example, has risen to about $500. Experts anticipate that at some point the two costs will intersect.
The U.S. Desalination Coalition believes that if the federal government makes a contribution to the capital costs of increasing desalination supply, and if the projects employ efficient economies of scale and the best technology, that the cost of desalination could actually dip below that of imported water in many places.
Q: Who will benefit from the federal incentives and grants you seek?
A: Everyone! The primary benefit will be clean and reliable water supplies for people to drink. Farmers, ranchers, and other businesses also will be able to rely on a steady supply of clean water - and be less fearful of losing their water to urban areas. The availability of clean water also can contribute to improved health in those areas where polluted or contaminated water supplies contribute to sickness and disease.
Q: Who are your strongest advocates in Congress and the Administration? Your most outspoken opposition?
A: There are many in Congress who appreciate the value of desalination. We are meeting with a number of Members of Congress and anticipate announcing some formal statements of support very soon. There even is interest on Capitol Hill in creating a "Desalination Caucus."
The only "opposition" of which we are aware is a lack of awareness of the urgency of the water supply situation and the need for increased understanding about the viability of desalination as a cost-effective, efficient resource to provide clean water.
Q: How widespread is desalination now?
A: There are 11,000 desalination plants operating in 120 countries around the world. Global capacity now stands at 4 billion gallons per day. The first modern facility was constructed in 1938, so we now have more than seven decades of experience with the process.
Q: Where will desalination treatment plants be located?
A: Desalination plants are located along the coastline as a practical matter, both for access to supply and appropriate removal of the by-product ("brine" - water with a high salt content). A highly cost-effective means of employing desalination is to build a facility in conjunction with an existing power plant. This allows the desalination facility to use the power plant's intake and outflow pipes and to obtain electric power at the lowest possible cost.
Q: What are the adverse environmental effects of desalination?
A: Some believe we should focus water-related policies on improving conservation methods. Others question the effects of returning the by-product of desalination - "brine" - on marine life. States, municipal and federal agencies are working together to manage the potential impact.
* Acre-foot. The term used to measure large volumes of water. An acre-foot of water is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre to a depth of one foot. One acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons. One million gallons equals 3.07 acre-feet.
"We need a farsighted program for meeting urgent water needs by converting saltwater to fresh water."
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1951