This question struck me a couple of years back when Mumbai was hit by a massive storm. I was having a discussion with my friends about this and asked them a question if we can harness the ocean water to fulfill our needs during days of water shortage? At that time everyone just brushed the topic aside saying it is impossible. Ocean water cannot be used in any way.
However, today, when I heard about so many lost lives in the Cyclone Tauktae that hit the western part of my country, India, this thought came up again and it got me searching for a possibility or if it has been already done.
As per studies, the water level is expected to rise by 0.3m by the year 2100 as compared to 2000 due to the impact of the greenhouse effect heating up the icebergs in the arctic circle. According to United Nations – “Climate change will be the biggest factor increasing the pressure on water supplies in the future.”
So why not use it in such a way that this extra water can be used properly in order to save from such mishappenings and in turn save lives.
“Water – Water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” Why not try to change it?
On one side huge population on Earth comes in grip of calamities like Cyclones, Tsunamis, etc and the water turns out to be hazardous for them. We can use this water to feed the drought-prone areas to fulfill their needs.
To my surprise, as per Scientific American, International Desalination Association, there are already 21000 desalination plants (establishments located around coastal regions to remove salt and minerals from seawater) across the globe, as per Wikipedia. But majorly they are centered around Saudi Arabia because of the dearth of water resources. In fact, it is their lifeblood. The second country in line which has heavily invested in desalination technology is the United States of America.
As per Insider Monkey, the desalination market is expected to grow at 9.5% which is a considerate number.
There are various companies working towards it and people are investing heavily in such companies since “green investments” are on the rise. Aquatech, Biwater, Hyflux, Suez, and Veolia to name a few with Veolia contributing to a huge percentage of desalination business.
However, no matter how easy it may sound, there are major repercussions attached to the process of desalination, and a lot of many scientists, as well as environmentalists, speak against it. The reasons are given below:
Energy Requirement: Desalination requires a lot of energy. But we can at least start with areas that have a water shortage and save our freshwater sources to some extent to keep the supply running.
Viable only for Coastal areas: Use river waters in the areas where ocean water cannot reach. In this way, a lot of pressure can be lifted off from our freshwater lakes and rivers as well. It can prove to be a boon for drought-stricken and desert areas.
Harmful to Environment: Brine is disposed of off in the nearby water bodies mixed with an additional set of chemicals used to treat ocean water making it harmful to aquatic life. Now there are measures put in place by the companies for the environment as well.
Cost– Infrastructure settlement is a one-time cost. Moreover, at least it is better than spending millions on rehabilitating torn communities.
Technology: There is a requirement of state-of-the-art technology in such desalination plants to make seawater useful freshwater for everyday use. We have widely available technology and various advancements are on their way which can surely help us refine the process and make it cost-efficient.
Due to its expensive nature, research is on to find efficient processes to make this work in order to make it feasible for low-income countries as well.
It is a partial solution for sure. Reducing the greenhouse effect on one side can help. But using this water to fulfilling the needs can be the other complimentary solution a well.